A few years ago I turned 50 and realized that I had been letting myself go: Packing on the post-menopausal pounds and not doing any regular exercise, it was all really starting to show.
Unsure of what steps to take, I did what so many of us do under these circumstances: nothing. When the weight gain started to go past 15 pounds and my arms took on the look of bat wings, I decided that drastic measures were required.
I started eating all the right things (and stopped eating the ones that were wreaking havoc on my health and weight) and embarked on a run/walk program developed by Olympian runner Jeff Galloway, eventually losing all 15 lbs and going down an entire pant size.
But even though I was fitter (and a lot healthier), my upper arms were still as mushy as ever (my daughters would say "squishy"). It's true that as we get older, firming up certain parts of our bodies isn't as easy as it once was. But I soon found out it is far from impossible.
For many years I had heard about the NYC-based celebrity trainer David Kirsch, who regularly works with Heidi Klum, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Barkin and many others. In the name of research (I was just starting to write "The Best of Everything After 50", I called David and told him that I wanted to get stronger and firmer -- with a special focus on my upper arms -- so he graciously invited me to come to his world-famous gym for a little assessment. When he asked me to get down and "do 10" (push-ups), he didn't laugh or smirk or roll his eyes when I couldn't even do one. Instead, David gave me a challenge I couldn't refuse:
Barbara, do these two exercises -- which I will show you -- every day for four weeks. When you come back to see me again, your body -- especially your upper arms -- will be transformed. I guarantee it.
Result? My arms developed curves I never thought I would ever have, and I can now do 20 or more push-ups (yes, at the same time, smarty pants). I am stronger, feel more powerful and I know I'm doing everything right to fight osteoporosis. (I'm proud to report that the National Osteoporosis Foundation will be honoring me at an awards luncheon on September 24th in NYC because of my articles about creating a sustainable approach to healthy and positive aging.)
That was three years ago, and I still do them every day. Just as David challenged me, here's my challenge to you: Do these two exercises every day for four weeks, exactly as I outlined below (correct form is key: check out the short video showing me doing push-ups below) and then look in the mirror and let me know what you see. (Or better yet, have someone take a "before" and "after" photo of you wearing a spaghetti strap dress.) Of course, you'll look even better if you follow the healthy eating plan designed specifically for post-50 women and burn some calories by running and/or walking -- see the chapter on fitness for exact details. But even if you do nothing else, you will see a change. And keep it going! These exercises are not a quick fix, although they do work remarkably fast. They are for life.
Here's what you'll need:
- yoga mat
- form fitting workout clothes (so you can check on your form)
Here are the rules:
- Get the green light from your doctor.
- Do these every day.
- Do one set in the very beginning, but work up to three sets.
- Do these moves as a "circuit" (move very quickly from one exercise to the other so you're getting a cardio workout, too).
- Follow the exact directions for each move (details below).
- Remember to breathe.
- Take a 10 second "breather" between each set.
Other things you can do to help with your overall fitness program:
- Try to do some kind of cardio exercise every day for at least 30 minutes: Walk, run, elliptical, swim, bike, Zumba... Whatever you enjoy doing.
- Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day (every two to three hours) that include whole grains, dark leafy greens and no processed foods or sugar.
- Drink lots of water and green tea
And here are the two exercises that will transform your upper arms (and other parts, too!):
Nothing symbolizes fitness quite like the simple push-up. It tests your entire body by engaging every part of it -- arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. Doing them is the easiest, fastest and most effective way to get fit. They are the gold standard. You may need to start with a modified push-up (on your knees), but eventually, you'll build up to the full push-up.
How to do a full push-up: Make your entire body straight, like a plank, with your toes and the balls of your feet on the mat, and hands directly under your chest. Using your arms, go down to the count of four, and back up to the count of four. Do 12 to 15 reps. (Watch this YouTube video of me demonstrating how to do a push-up, below. David taught me that how low you go is not the most important thing. Keeping the proper form is.)
This is an incredibly hard, but Zen-like position that is one of the most effective exercises you can do because it works your entire body, including your upper arms.
How to do The Plank: Hold your body in a "plank" position, simulating the "up" part of a push-up (see YouTube video above), but stay there, holding perfectly still, for 30 to 60 seconds. Keep your abs tight and your back flat the entire time. Try to lengthen your whole body, reaching back through your heels and forward through the top of your head. Your heart will be pounding, your arms will be shaking, but try to make it to 60 seconds (or more).
You can do it!
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Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the President of Best of Everything Media, Inc., author of "The Best of Everything After 50", a guide to positive aging, and is at work on her second book, "Fifty Rules: What Every Woman Needs to Know Before Turning 50," which will be published in late 2012. Barbara is the Chief Pundit at Fab Over Fifty, one of the largest websites for women over 45. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Yoga offers a myriad of wellness benefits: flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, can relieve back pain and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good examples of stretches here and these common stretching mistakes.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. Stationary bikes also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get more benefit from your bike ride.
One of the most beneficial exercises is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
Pilates is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. This piece offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and great for you. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting all the major muscle groups: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible aerobic exercise. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a lower impact.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.
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