In this letter . . .

  • Where Did I Put My Car Keys? (The connection between low-calorie diets and memory.)

  • Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

Where Did I Put My Car Keys?

The famous Buck Institute for Age Research is only a few miles from where I live in Marin County, California. Scientists from around the world are at work there looking into the mysteries of the aging process.

We have a friend, Karen, from the Buck Institute, whose sons were in my wife Patty’s middle-school classes. Karen has invited us to tour the Buck, but we have yet to take her up on it. I made a couple of tired jokes, which I’m sure she’s heard dozens of times, about being afraid they might not let me leave.

Some of the Buck's studies involve the effects on longevity of reduced calorie diets. As I understand it, eating less has resulted in the significant life extension of certain life forms. However, the percentage of calorie reduction in the successful tests is quite high. And whether greatly reduced calorie intake would carry over to greater longevity in people is yet unknown.

However, scientists do know for sure that eating far more than is needed does without question shorten lifespan. And even more important than how long one lives are the quality of life issues of being overweight or obese, regardless of its length.

This brings me to something I came across recently in Scientific American. In a short summary and podcast titled “Eat Less, Remember More,” researchers explain that elderly women who ate low-calorie diets actually improved their memories.

Being overweight, and by that I mean being overfat, surely shortens lifespan and quality of life in ways almost too numerous to list. However, this is the first time that I have seen a report of a scientific study that shows even memory can be improved by eating less and maintaining a healthy body weight.

It's just one more reason to get fit and stay that way.

Scientific American summary or podcast here.

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Do You Need a Personal Trainer?

The vocation of personal trainer is a relatively recent creation, and a growing field, I might add. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook (2008-2009) describes the job as follows . . .

"Personal trainers work one-on-one with clients either in a gym or in the client’s home. They help clients assess their level of physical fitness and set and reach fitness goals. Trainers also demonstrate various exercises and help clients improve their exercise techniques. They may keep records of their clients’ exercise sessions to monitor clients’ progress toward physical fitness. They may also advise their clients on how to modify their lifestyle outside of the gym to improve their fitness. They usually must have certification to begin working with clients or with members of a fitness facility."

That’s a pretty accurate job description.

But let's step back in history for a moment. It wasn’t that long ago that people got fitness and weight training information from mail order courses found advertised in the back of popular magazines. Or muscle magazines like Iron Man, Strength & Health, and Your Physique told you how to train. There was a scattering of gyms, usually independently owned, and the owner was also your coach.

On their own, many highly motivated guys and a few gals cobbled together workout routines and learned from each other. Supersets? Hmm. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s try it. There were barbells, dumbbells, and a few devices. There were a few experts. For the most part, it worked. Names like Reeves, LaLanne, Ross, and Efferman emerged. You can’t knock it.

Today, a senior beginner walks into a modern health club and it’s an alien world. Strange cardio machines in neat columns fill a room. All manner of resistance devices fill another. Foreign sounding names are everywhere. What are Cybex, Hammer Strength, and Magnum anyway? Still another big room harbors exercisers working in unison as a leader calls out instructions to the beat of loud music. Somewhere in the back of the club are the “old fashion” free weights — the iron — the barbells and dumbbells.

Don’t mean to scare you. It’s really fun once you get acclimated. But until you know the equipment and the basics, you may need a guide. You may want a personal trainer to demonstrate the exercises and equipment and take you through a routine. Will you always need a trainer? Not unless you choose to have one. Their services aren’t cheap. Still, I’ve met people who say they simply won’t exercise without a trainer to nudge them along. Most people get along just fine.

Can you still do it the old way? Sure you can. There are books and videos and web sites like this one to help you along. I’ve written a couple training books myself. It doesn’t hurt to read them even if you are working with a trainer. Learning about the how and why of training is part of the fun. And knowledge leads to independence.

But you may still want the services of a personal trainer. If you have a chronic health problem or are recovering from an injury, a competent trainer’s advice can be invaluable. Most health clubs have trainer lists. Ask if any work particularly well with seniors. Some trainers specialize in senior fitness. Meet with more than one trainer if you aren’t sure. Don’t be shy about asking questions and insisting on references. You should have confidence in your personal trainer’s good judgment and professionalism.

Here is a list of professional fitness organizations that educate, test, and designate personal trainer certification.

A few words of caution: Probably the worst place to look for beginners’ workout information is in the muscle magazines that feature gigantic, steroid-built bodybuilders. The workouts they describe are usually long, heavy, and severe — and made possible by drugs. As seniors, we are smarter than that.

The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter is a free publication sent twice monthly to our subscribers. Our purpose is to provide honest and realistic fitness information for people age 50 and above.

Always consult with your physician before making dietary changes or starting an exercise program.

Your comments or questions are always appreciated.


Logan Franklin
The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter