I recently thought about why we exercise and what we choose to do first – and it isn’t generally strength training. Why is that? I believe it’s because we feel we CAN’T do something about becoming stronger unless we join a gym – and then we always seem to gravitate to cardio exclusively as if that is all we can do. We want to lose weight, feel better about ourselves, burn stored fat or just increase our energy level, but what if there was a better way?
Fitness trackers are some of the hottest tech gadgets on the market. They can measure your daily steps count, monitor your heart rate, log how many calories you’ve eaten, and even analyze your sleep quality. Some models can read your blood oxygen levels and use GPS technology to keep track of your running, walking, or biking route. Many people swear by making this type of “wearable” technology a part of their daily routines.
But is there any merit to all this hype?
Are fitness trackers a passing trend or a worthy addition to your health and exercise routine?
Why wear a fitness tracker?
We all know that it’s important to exercise regularly, especially as we age. Studies have shown that physical activity can extend longevity, prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke, and combat the onset of dementia. Having a regular exercise routine is an important part of keeping your body feeling young and in shape. The trouble is that many people struggle with keeping up a consistent workout routine. This is where fitness trackers come in.
Fitness trackers are wearable health devices designed to monitor your activity level. They come in all shapes and sizes, from simple models that are little more than glorified pedometers to advanced smartwatches that can track your body’s vital signs in micro detail.
Tracking your fitness activity also can be an important step to taking charge of your health because it makes people more conscious of their health. Having a log of your activity level and vital signs can also be a valuable tool to share with your doctor or personal trainer. Seeing hard data makes it easier to create a sustainable routine you can stick to.
The Pros of Using a Fitness Tracker
Helps build routine
For many people, blindly exercising without any way to track their progress can be frustrating. It can be hard to find the motivation to get moving when you have no way of knowing if your efforts are working. Wearing a fitness tracker allows you to see your progress in real-time and make adjustments. If you track 5,000 steps a day, you can make it a goal to gradually increase to the recommended 10,000 steps per day. It can be motivating to see your numbers improve, which makes it easier to stick to your routine.
Motivates you to move more
Most of us spend far more time than we’d like to on the couch. Sitting too much can be deadly. It’s a good rule of thumb to get up and move for 15 minutes for every hour that you spend sitting down. Many fitness trackers come with built-in reminders for this exact reason, helping you remember to get up and move throughout the day.
Keeps track of your dietary choices
Many fitness trackers offer ways to input your daily food and water intake via the connected apps. Keeping track helps make sure that you’re getting adequate nutrition. Studies have shown that tracking your food intake can lead to weight loss, even without following a specific diet plan. The information can also help a dietitian or a personal trainer get an idea of your daily meal plan. They can use this data to help you formulate a healthy diet, and logging your choices regularly can help you stick to it.
The Cons of Using a Fitness Tracker
Can be overwhelming
Some people may find the amount of data to be overwhelming. Many devices offer far more options than the average person needs, and the high cost of some premium models means they may not be an ideal investment. Those who are less technically savvy may also find the device’s smartphone app frustrating to use, or simply not worth the trouble.
Ask yourself what’s most important to you to keep track of — such as your heart rate, number of steps and estimated number of calories burned — then look for models that only track those features. You’ll save money and save your brain from information overload.
May lead to obsessive behavior
The detailed stats that a fitness tracker provides can be a tremendous motivation for some people. But for others, this may open a gateway to obsessive behavior. Many people can’t help but fixate on obtaining perfect stats, and may push themselves too hard to achieve them. The number on the screen is only a best estimation of your daily activity, not a measure of your self-worth! It’s also worth noting that fitness trackers are not medically accurate with their stats, and there can be vast discrepancies between different models.
Not as useful in the long-run
While a fitness tracker can be a valuable tool to motivate you in the early stages of your fitness journey, they’re not as useful for keeping the weight off in the long-run. Surveys have shown that around ⅓ of people who buy fitness trackers stop wearing their devices after six months. Other studies have found that they’re not as helpful for losing weight as most people would believe. A randomized trial by the Journal of American Medicine found that people who didn’t wear a fitness tracker actually lost around 8 pounds more on average compared to their device-wearing counterparts.
Does that mean that wearing a fitness tracking device will inhibit your progress? Not necessarily. Those in the study who wore the trackers still saw improvements to their body composition and physical fitness thanks to their new diet and exercise routines. That’s because the trick to living a healthy lifestyle is finding a routine that works and sticking to it. If the fitness tracker helps you do this, excellent! If not, another method of motivation might be better for you.
The Best Alternatives to Fitness Trackers
It’s worth noting that shelling out hundreds of dollars for a fitness tracker isn’t the only way to monitor your health. If you want to get an idea of what your heart rate is like while exercising, try this simple experiment: go for a brisk 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. When you get to the halfway point, try singing one of your favorite songs. If you can sing it perfectly without any hesitation, up the pace.
You can also set “stand up and move” reminders on your watch or smartphone. For tracking your food intake, there are a number of apps available to let you log your daily meals. Some people enjoy keeping a physical food journal rather than going with a purely digital route. You can always experiment until you find the right method.
The Bottom Line
When used correctly, a fitness tracker can be a helpful tool that offers detailed feedback on your body’s activity level and other aspects of your health. If you need an extra boost to get moving or want to keep a close eye on your progress, they can be a worthwhile investment. However, if you have a tendency to obsess over small details or don’t need the extensive data that a fitness tracker provides, another option might be better to track your progress. Ultimately, how you choose to track your activity is your choice. Whatever option you choose, the important thing is that you keep moving and stay active at a healthy level.
Originally printed on aviv-clinics.com. Reprinted with permission.
Aviv Clinics delivers a highly effective, science-based treatment protocol to enhance brain performance and improve the cognitive and physical symptoms of conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Lyme, and dementia.
Our intensive treatment protocol uses Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and cognitive and physical training as well as nutrition management for better brain health. The medical program closely tracks clients’ progress before, during, and after the treatment protocol, using customized tablets and other technology. Based on over a decade of research and development, the Aviv Medical Program is holistic and customized to your needs.
Aaron Tribby, M.Ed is Head of Physiology for Aviv Clinics where he is responsible for managing a team of physiologists, physical therapists, dietitians, and stress technicians at Aviv Clinics – the first hyperbaric medical treatment center of its kind in North America dedicated to improving brain performance. He also oversees the cardiopulmonary exercise tests and CPET in the clinic, responsible for analyzing each test. Leading to Aviv Clinics, his clinical experience is focused on health and wellness, strength and conditioning and nutrition within both the non-profits and private sectors including Mercy Hospital and MusclePharm, respectively.
- Aviv Clinics – Brain Performance. Aviv Clinics USA. (2021, July 1). https://aviv-clinics.com/hyperbaric-medical-program/.
- Gartner Survey Shows Wearable Devices Need to Be More Useful. Gartner. (2016, December 7). https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2016-12-07-gartner-survey-shows-wearable-devices-need-to-be-more-useful.
- Jakicic, J. M., Davis, K. K., Rogers, R. J., King, W. C., Marcus, M. D., Helsel, D., Rickman, A. D., Wahed, A. S., & Belle, S. H. (2016). Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss. JAMA, 316(11), 1161. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.12858
- Langhammer, B., Bergland, A., & Rydwik, E. (2018, December 5). The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People. BioMed research international. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6304477/.
- Patel, A. V., Maliniak, M. L., Rees-Punia, E., Matthews, C. E., & Gapstur, S. M. (2018). Prolonged Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Cause-Specific Mortality in a Large US Cohort. American Journal of Epidemiology, 187(10), 2151–2158. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwy125
- ScienceDaily. (2019, February 28). Tracking food leads to losing pounds. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190228154839.htm.
Beginning in the seventh grade, I became fascinated with age—specifically how our bodies’ functional capacities decrease with the passage of time. When I once shared this perception with my 98-year-old grandmother, she said, “Just wait until you’re 80.” I’m still far from 80, so I can only imagine how difficult it will be then to stand up from a chair or run around the neighborhood.
The biggest factor in the decline in physical capacity with age is level of physical activity. When your clients remain active throughout adulthood, they can retard the aging process and continue to live a life worth living. I know 70-year-olds who are fitter than 30-year-olds.
Physiology of the Older Adult
After age 30, most physiological functions decline at a rate of approximately 0.75 to 1 percent per year. Perhaps the biggest functionally-related physiological change with age is a decrease in muscle mass, called sarcopenia, which is due to a loss of motor units (a motor neuron and all the muscle fibres it connects to) and atrophy of fast-twitch muscle fibres. With the loss of motor units comes denervation of muscle fibres (a lost connection between the motor neuron and the fibres within the motor unit). This denervation causes the muscle fibres to deteriorate, resulting in a decrease in muscle mass, which significantly decreases the older adult’s muscle strength and power, making certain activities of daily living difficult.
Men and women generally attain their highest strength levels between ages 20 and 40, after which the strength of most muscle groups declines, slowly at first and then more rapidly after age 50. Muscle strength decreases approximately eight percent per decade after age 45, with greater strength losses occurring in women compared to men. In both men and women, lower body strength declines more rapidly than upper body strength.
With the loss of muscle mass also comes a loss in mitochondria, which decreases muscular and aerobic endurance. Mitochondria are unique in that they have their own specific DNA, so when older adults lose mitochondria, they also lose mitochondrial DNA. If your clients want healthy functioning muscles as they age, they need lots of healthy mitochondria.
Cardiovascular fitness also declines with age, in part due to a decrease in maximum heart rate and stroke volume (the volume of blood the heart pumps per beat). With a lower maximum heart rate and stroke volume comes a lower maximum cardiac output (the volume of blood the heart pumps per minute), a decreased ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles, and thus a lower VO2max (the maximum volume of oxygen the muscles can consume). VO2max decreases by 8 to 10 percent every 10 years after the age of 30 in healthy, sedentary adults. When maximum cardiovascular functioning declines, so does the workload that can be tolerated at a given percentage of the (lower) maximum. Decreases in VO2max with aging can be variable, particularly if your clients remain active. But if not attended to, a youthful run becomes an aged walk.
Training the Older Adult
Although many physiological factors decline with age, up to 50 percent of this decline is due to deconditioning rather than aging. With proper training, your clients can lessen the physiological effects of aging and remain fit and functional.
Arguably, cardiovascular exercise will always be more important than strength training throughout your client’s life because heart disease is the most common cause of death for both men and women. No one has ever died of a weak biceps muscle. But people die of weak hearts every day. One cannot live very well or very long without a strong heart. Since the risk of heart disease increases as people age, older adults need cardiovascular exercise just as much or even more than do younger adults. Like younger adults, older adults should do at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. The more physically fit one remains, the slower the rate of cardiovascular decline. Maintaining exercise intensity, rather than a higher volume of training, is the key to minimizing the loss of aerobic fitness as your clients age.
Strength training also becomes more important as people age. Given that aging is accompanied by a decrease in muscular endurance, strength, and power, resistance training should take on greater weight (pun intended) when training an older client. I’d even go as far to say that every person over the age of fifty should strength train because that’s about the age at which people start to lose a significant amount of muscle mass. And that loss in muscle mass with age affects your client’s ability to function. If you’ve ever seen a senior citizen try to stand up from sitting in a chair or witnessed how catastrophic a fall can be to a senior, you know how much benefit strength training can have. The positive effects of strength training on bone density, muscular strength and endurance, balance and coordination (which reduces the risk of falling and fractures), functional mobility, physical aesthetics, and self-esteem cannot be denied.
Train older clients with heavier weights and fewer reps per set to target improvements in muscular strength, or with lighter weights lifted quickly to target the fast-twitch muscle fibres and improvements in muscular power. Greater strength gains occur at intensities of 80 to 90 percent of the one-rep max (the maximum weight that can be lifted just once). Although we tend to think of power training as something done to improve athletic performance, it has big implications for older adults, whose muscles lack strength and power. Research has shown power training to be very effective for strength and power development in seniors. Since it takes longer to recover from workouts as people age, give your clients more time between intense resistance and cardio workouts.
If you train older adults with higher intensity, less volume, and more recovery between workouts, not only will they be fitter and stronger, they may even be able to keep up with my 98-year-old grandmother.
From CanFitPro magazine. Sept./Oct. 2017. Reprinted with permission from Jason R. Karp, PhD
Jason Karp, PhD, is the 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 2014 recipient of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership award, and creator of the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification. He has more than 400 published articles in international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of eight books, including Run Your Fat Off and The Inner Runner, and speaks at fitness conferences and coaching clinics around the world. Get training programs and autographed copies of his books at run-fit.com.
While the threat of the COVID-19 needs to be taken with great concern, it is as important to understand the useless and counterproductive effects of panicking. Whether you take the vaccine or not, prevention is the best approach to any viral challenge. Panic is an extreme fear response triggering stress hormones that suppress immune function increasing susceptibility to any pathogen, including viruses.
Go big or go home? We all want to see fantastic results from our hard work and dedication to any fitness program. If we maintain nutrition, eat well and work as hard as we can, we are going to see results: that is inevitable. But, do we have to train as hard as possible each and every time we workout, each and every day? Sure, we fit in a rest day, but what else can we do to make sure we are restoring our bodies and minds?
Fitness goals are most easily reached when they are part of every aspect of our lifestyle and not compartmentalized into a few hours of the day. We have limited energy sources no matter how healthy we are, so it is important to maintain awareness about how each of our decisions & actions influence our wellness and choose accordingly.
From a physical aspect, we can slow down some of our workouts to build strength. This works in a variety of ways. By increasing resistance, continuing muscle exertion over a period of time and working muscles beyond the support of initial momentum, strength can be gained, even with relatively light weights or by using the weight of the body alone. This can be true of some weight training programs and is something you can discuss adding to your fitness routines with a certified personal trainer. It is also one of the key elements of building strength through yoga practice and asanas (yoga postures). An additional consideration from a holistic health perspective is the effects of the stress hormone cortisol on weight loss. By taking part in calming physical activities such as restorative, gentle, yin and meditative yoga practices, it is possible to reduce stress, allowing the body to shed weight, heal and be at top capacity for more intensive strength and cardio training when you are working with your personal trainer or in other group fitness programs. By taking time to slow down, you can actually optimize performance and fitness results.
Nourishing your mind can also come in handy, as a way to promote your health when you are not busy exercising or working. Take time to read, learn, talk with fitness experts, organize your time and plan your meals. A wealth of free information is available online to support you in your fitness goals. Blogs with entries from personal trainers and other fitness experts are a great place to start, like the MedFit Network blog. Many personal trainer certification organizations (like ISSA or ACE) also maintain blogs with a variety of advice for personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts. You may also get inspired and decide to take your fitness goals one step further. Once you get involved learning more about fitness, biomechanics and how amazingly capable your body is, you may even get inspired to become a personal trainer or group fitness instructor yourself!
No matter where you are at in your fitness journey, don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Slow down sometimes to speed up your progress!
John Platero is the founder of National Council of Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) which has certified thousands of personal trainers both nationally and internationally.
Article reprinted with permission from John Platero.
We are by nature lazy creatures. We try to get by with as little effort as possible; we love to minimize work but maximize enjoyment. Sadly, this concept applied to exercise can have severe consequences to our bodies.
Weak links, in essence, are parts of our bodies that are not as strong as the others. Logically, it would make sense for us to strengthen these weak links in order to build our bodies as a whole.
However, our bodies usually choose to perform a movement with the least amount of effort and resistance. If one of our muscles is weak, instead of activating it, our body will compensate or cheat by making the other muscles around it work harder to complete the movement.
This results in strong muscles growing stronger, and weak links growing weaker. The only way to overcome our cheating tendency is to consciously activate our weak links and establish proper movements.
Once fundamental movements are established, only then can you add in other factors such as strength, endurance, speed, agility and athletic skills, which will help play a big role in improving performance and injury prevention.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
There’s no point building big muscles if your joints, tendons, and bones can’t stand the strain. Instead, it is wiser to first build your foundation — and for many people, that means revisiting the weakest parts of your body.
Perhaps it came from a previous injury, or maybe it’s just a muscle you didn’t pay attention to previously. Whatever the case, tending to your weakest link will lay the necessary groundwork for true fitness. Skip this step, and you may end up doing yourself more harm than good.
It’s not just limited to gym-goers who overload their muscles by lifting too much weight. In fact, women who are supposedly “flexible” and great at yoga can get into trouble too. On one hand, the gym-goers are building strength without flexibility; on the other hand, yoga enthusiasts are pushing the limits of their stretches without increasing their strength. This can result in joint laxity (looseness of joints) that makes them vulnerable to injury.
Weak links due to injuries
Some of you reading this right now may have suffered injuries before, whether major or minor. And most of you would be able to relate to the fact that you never feel the same after an injury. The weak links caused by injury are often hard to repair and can lie dormant for a long time before resurfacing to cause discomfort and pain.
That’s why it is important to identify your weak links. Even if you’ve never been injured, there are other factors that may cause weak links:
- old injuries that you were unaware of
- poor movement
- incomplete rehabilitation
- alignment issues
- muscle imbalances
As you may realize, weak links are not always caused by outward injuries, but may also develop due to intangible factors like age, mentality and physical habits.
Nevertheless, many people suffer because they do not rehabilitate completely from an injury. A lot of people go through physio and recovery program, but stop once they reach 80% wellness. However, it’s at this stage where it’s the easiest to experience re-injury. Instead, it’s always better to achieve 110% fitness before you go back to your usual workout or sports routine. This ensures your weak link has been strengthened and prevents injury from occurring easily.
Getting fit the right way
Ultimately, your body is unique. Although most of us want to go straight to training like Arnold, or run like Usain Bolt, our body has its own sets of strengths and weak links that need to be addressed individually first. And the best way to do that is through a personally tailored corrective exercise program, measured out specifically for you.
The shortcut to fitness is doing it right in the first place.
Ke Wynn Lee, author and an international award-winning corrective exercise specialist, currently owns and operates a private Medical Fitness Center in Malaysia. Apart from coaching, he also conducts workshops and actively contributes articles related to corrective exercise, fitness & health to online media and local magazines.
It’s been said: “If all the benefits of exercise could be placed in a single pill, it would be the most widely prescribed medication in the world.” Scientific evidence continues to mount supporting the numerous medicinal benefits of exercise. In fact, there’s hardly a disease that I can think of that exercise won’t help in one way or another, be it prevention, treatment, or even cure in some instances.
If you’re trying to build muscle, strength training is the best way to do it. Strength training damages the muscles, which causes them to repair and grow. The result is bigger, stronger muscles. Bigger, stronger muscles to someone like us with MS means the strength to move those muscles once we create the brain to muscle reconnection. However, optimal muscle growth goes beyond your actual workout. It also relies on post-workout nutrition. Your muscles need enough protein and carbohydrates to effectively recover.
When I was in graduate school, cardiac rehab was THE big issue in exercise science. Most graduates who wanted to work in clinical chose cardiac rehab as their mainstay. However, much of the discussion about the medical benefits of exercise changed in the late 1980s when Dr. David Nieman from Appalachian State University published the first in a series of reports on exercise and the immune system. In my opinion, Dr. Nieman changed the conversation on exercise as his research looked at one of the first biological mechanisms for change in the body due to acute and chronic exercise.
The State of Immunity
Why are we discussing exercise and the immune system? Because thirty years and hundreds of papers on the effects of exercise on immune enhancement, we are still as a nation not educated (let alone convinced) that exercise should be a mainstay of maintaining and improving overall health – especially in persons with infectious disease.
Let’s look at some of Nieman’s work. First, Dave was a marathon runner, who noticed that after long races he and his friends felt “drained” and some came down with colds. He took blood samples pre- and post-marathon race and found on numerous occasions that specific immune cells such as lymphocytes dropped dramatically after races – leaving persons (himself as well) more likely to come down with colds. So, his response was to train accordingly and get plenty of rest in days after races.
His second area of research looked at the chronic effects of exercise on the immune system, such as white cells, natural killer cells, and other specific immune groups. His conclusion after his research is that exercise does stimulate immune cell function, and this may help in persons with cancer (immune damage due to chemotherapy), and other metabolic diseases.
Over this same 30 years the nation has gotten fatter, lazier and sicker. To the point where many people have no idea that their diet and exercise regimens can actually improve their immune function – so they resort to medications.
Today we are faced with a COVID infectious disease, where many people literally fear for their lives. The crux of this report isn’t to cherry-pick statistics, or to point fingers, but the bottom line is that persons who are physically fit suffer much less severe symptoms of COVID, the flu or other infectious diseases than sedentary counterparts.
The immune system is one of the strongest areas of biology that cement the strength of regular exercise. Along with changes in blood chemistry and telomere length, immune changes represent one of the foundations of clinical exercise benefits for young and old. Especially old.
Why Americans Should Start Exercising
Physical fitness has been left out of the discussion relating to COVID. This, along with proper nutrition and supplementation are not only NOT mentioned in the media, but many are disregarding the basics in favor of specific medical therapies.
Exercise should be touted if not for just ONE area of concern – and that is obesity. As one of the main comorbidities for severe COVID, losing weight would reduce severity in many people. This alone would reduce the burden of the disease from a death, healthcare expense and severity aspect. Of course, there are other complications relating to COVID, but in general, exercise has many positive effects, with few side effects. Its contribution to enhancing immunity is one of the biggest attributes.
Using proper assessment and outcome metrics, trainers and coaches can correlate the effects of their programs with other health and medical scores (such as a change in blood sugar or blood pressure each session, or loss of body fat over a one-month period). These are important because they will correlate to changes in overall blood labs, which will have both an acute effect (reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, or asthma attack), or long-term effects, such as reduction in diabetic complications, risks of falls, and peripheral vascular disease. Trainers may not understand just how powerful regular exercise can be for specific medical populations, but since the 1970s, the data is clear that exercise has an effect on almost every type of medical condition – even relatively new conditions to exercise training such as autism and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
If we understand that just a moderate amount of exercise will improve circulation enough to enhance the immune system, then we should be detailing it to new members as they come into the health club setting.
Why Health Clubs Need to Open – and Stay Open
Even mom and pop clubs can play a role in improving health. The first is to have a member tracking system that can keep people coming to the club, at least twice a week. For health’s sake, perhaps 3-4 days per week would be preferable. The “essential” label is a bit misleading because there are no true metrics for what an “essential” business may be (outside of trash collection, medical triage, and grocery stores). Clubs can position themselves through medical fitness and in the near future, have the technology and assessments necessary to look at health outcomes as persons who normally would not be in a health club see the benefits of a medically based program that will cater to their needs while improving their health along the way.
Eric Durak is the President of MedHealthFit, and founding partner in the Fitness Is Medicine Initiative. He is a 35- year veteran of the health industry. He has worked for health clubs, medical research centers, and continuing education. He has been at the forefront of the medical fitness movement and appreciates the opportunity to work with MedFit Network to move medical fitness to the forefront of health care. Email him at email@example.com
- Nieman, DC. Moderate Exercise Improves Immunity and Decreases Illness Rates. 2011. Am. J. Lifestyle Med. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827610392876.
- Oldridge, N, Pokosh, M, Grace, SL. A systematic review of recent cardiac rehabilitation meta-analysis in patients with coronary heart disease or failure. 2019. Future Cardiol. 15(3):227-49. DOI: 10.2217/fca-2018-0085
- Russek, L, Simmonds, J. Evidence-based rationale for physical therapy treatment of children, adolescents, and adults diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome / hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The Evidence-Based Rationale for Physical Therapy Treatment of Children, Adolescents, and Adults Diagnosed with Joint Hypermobility Syndrome/Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (for Non-experts) | The Ehlers Danlos Society : The Ehlers Danlos Society