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.