When we think of our fitness, it should be thought of regarding our physical fitness, our mental fitness, and our emotional fitness. All three are all tied together. One can influence the other. I interviewed several trendsetters who focused on training the brain and mental fitness including Inna Khazan, Ph.D., Marvin Berman, Ph.D., and Lawrence Klein. These are important topics for people over 50 because their two most significant fears are falling and losing their mental faculties.
I interviewed Eric Pepper, Ph.D., who is a professor at San Francisco State University and he helps his clients improve both mental and physical performance using bio-feedback. One of his success stories was Jo Aito, a 47-year-old female weightlifter who was preparing to compete in a world championship. His goal was to use mental training to help her achieve a personal best and world record. Using biofeedback, he worked with Jo on her breathing, muscle relaxation, visualization and mental rehearsal. After six months of training with Eric, Jo did achieve her personal best and set a world record. She did it at the age of 47.
Another example of how training the brain and body are interrelated is an interview I did with Cathi Lamberti, CEO of SMARTfit, Inc. They have a product line that promotes neuroplasticity by incorporating a brand of functional training that uses a variety of activities that can focus on the core/torso, agility, speed, balance, flexibility, power, and strength while simultaneously developing high levels of neuromuscular efficiency. This process of engaging the hands, feet, ears, and eyes develops not only eye-hand but also visual-perceptual motor skills.
SMARTfit training provides this level of stimulation and enables individuals to merge the mental and the physical while continually encouraging higher levels of accomplishment, which in turn pushes demands on the neurological system to rewire itself more efficiently. Regular use improves the level at which the mind and body function competently together.
Their products are being used by high performing athletes as well as baby boomers who want to stay physically and mentally fit.
Are there any other misconceptions that you uncovered?
Phil: I am not sure that this is a misconception or just an important concept that is emerging lately. I am talking about the vital role recovery has in fitness over 50. Many people were led to believe that if you wanted to get better fitness results they had to train longer and harder. This idea is partly right. However, if you train harder and longer and do not allow your body to recover properly between workouts, your results will suffer significantly.
I interviewed several fitness experts like Joel Jamieson and Richard Harvey, Ph.D., who discussed the importance of heart rate variability (HRV) and its role in our body’s ability to recover from physical, mental and emotional stress.
Unlike basic heart rate (HR) that counts the number of heartbeats per minute, HRV looks much closer at the specific changes in time between successive heartbeats. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is an accurate, non-invasive measure of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – which responds to everything your body experiences including how you exercise, recover, eat, sleep and perceive stress.
The Sympathetic Nervous System controls your body’s “fight or flight” reactions in response to internal or external stressors. It stimulates the production of blood glucose (to fuel your muscles), pupil dilation (to see danger better), slows digestion (to focus energy on the present threat), and increases heart rate (to ensure adequate blood circulation to run or fight). The SNS is designed to overcome short-term stress situations such as running from a bear (literally or figuratively). However, this same response also occurs when you work out, are challenged mentally, get into an argument, or even when you find yourself in new activities. This acute response can become chronic when we are always confronted with stress from modern daily life such as work, family issues, financial concerns, as well as, dietary and physical lifestyle choices. Chronically accumulated stress from multiple sources can contribute to drastically reduced health and performance over the long term.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System controls your body’s ability to “rest and digest” and is associated with recovery. Parasympathetic activation is designed to conserves energy, constricts pupils, aids digestion, and slows heart rate. These responses are because the PNS fundamentally drives the anabolic processes involved in recovery and is needed to grow faster, stronger and healthier.
It is essential to understand that the SNS and PSNS control the same organs but with opposite effects. Both systems are always at work, and both are needed to maintain homeostasis (balance or equilibrium) in your body. With every heartbeat, your nervous system is sending the body a message to either “slow down or speed up” based on feedback from your senses, emotions, and thoughts. A healthy nervous system has a balanced push and pull between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches. Heart Rate Variability is an accurate, non-invasive measure of the ANS and the balance between the SNS and PSNS branches. When HRV increases, it is a sign that the body is in a recovery state. When HRV is decreased, on the other hand, it tells us the body is in an overall catabolic state and recovery is dramatically slowed down.
The ability to shift your body into a recovery mode is the real difference between getting the most results from all your fitness activities or getting burned out.
What is important to note is that it is possible to accurately and conveniently track HRV with various biofeedback devices and apps, so you can make better health, fitness and recovery decisions to achieve your fitness goals.
Are there any positive trends on the horizon that make will help people over 50 with their fitness?
Phil: There are several. Although the fitness industry is traditionally youth-oriented, they are starting to recognize the specialized needs and potential of the 50+ marketplace.
Equipment companies are starting to design machines and equipment so that it is easier for older people to use. The height of some treadmills is now set to match the height of a stair, cardio equipment is being designed to minimize stress on the joints, and weight machines are being made so that they are easier to set up, adjust and use appropriately without risk of injury.