An Interview with Dr. Miriam Nelson on Women’s Strength, Nutrition and Successful Aging

There’s a lot of anecdotal-based advice out there on how we should or should not eat, how to exercise, etc. But we really want good advice to be evidence-based, founded by sound scientific methods. So, we asked an expert researcher on female health, Dr. Miriam E. Nelson for her insights.

Dr. Nelson is currently the University of New Hampshire deputy chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute.  But while previously at Tufts University she was the Director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition. She’s written several books on the theme of “Strong Women”. These books and the work she performed at Tufts have helped women to shed the shackles that aging has to be a normal process of physical decline, osteoporosis and other forms of mental and physical deterioration. With proper exercise and nutrition, some of the deteriorating processes of aging can be mitigated or even reversed.

Leading by example, Dr. Nelson is the quintessential strong woman. In addition to rigorous research; book writing; speaking engagements, appearing on TV shows such as Oprah, The Today Show, and Good Morning America ; she is an avid mountain climber, and mother of 3 children, and a marathon runner.

We originally interviewed her back in 2004, but those pearls or wisdom are as true today as they were then, here are excerpts from that original interview.

“…we’re all going to age, but let’s do it in positive way.”

FitCommerce: Dr. Nelson, you have distinguished yourself in the field of exercise and nutrition, especially as it pertains to women, of all the career choices out there, how did you happen onto this one in the early days?

Woman Lifting Weights

Dr. Nelson: My interest in the general filed of physical activity and good nutrition were fostered at a very early age, I was always interested in health and physical activity, I was physically active myself and I had parents that fostered it.  I also always loved good food.

There was a freshman undergraduate nutrition course at the University of Vermont where I attended that was everything. It was science, health, and real world and extremely interesting and that was what got me going.

As for specific work with women, strength training and the like, that was fostered through the graduate work that I started at Tufts University.  A lot of it was serendipity with some early projects where my mentor suggested that nobody has really looked at exercise, bone and women. All of that got me going in a new field. I’ve been very fortunate.

The title of several of your books include the words “Strong Women”, the central theme is strong, which implies physical strength, was there an epiphany in your professional life where you observed a correlation between strength and better women’s health?

I’m not sure it was an epiphany as much as it is good, solid scientific thinking, and building upon previous studies, looking at the literature, taking some risks in doing some research in an area that no one had thought about before with women that are 50-70 doing high intensity strength training. So, the epiphany came when the results bore out what we had thought. That is, women can get very physically strong, get much healthier, gain muscle, lose body fat, and gain bone, through a simple intervention.  The epiphany came with the results, I’d say.

You’ve focused on both physical fitness and nutrition, the diode. This implies an important connection between the two, are there observable synergies between physical fitness and nutrition?

Very much so, they really go hand in hand, one without the other makes the glass half empty instead of being completely full. If you eat well, but you’re a total slug, totally sedentary and not fit, you’re going to be at risk for many of the chronic conditions that are out there. Mind you, you’re going to be better off than if you ate poorly and you’re a slug.

Proper nutrition is equally as important as exercise for women’s optimal health.

If you also exercise and eat really poorly, you’re not going to be maximizing the impact of the hard work that you are doing. When you add the two together, they both mutually feed off of each other.  A body that’s exercising needs to be well nourished and a body that’s well nourished can exercise well, and then you’re going to be so much healthier.

“So, we have gathered more information about the importance, especially as you grow older, of strength training for older adults.”

When you looked at nutrition, how did you select what food groups to look at? Did you make assumptions about their health benefits and seek corroborative evidence? Or was it purely serendipitous?

The work we did was more large scale population work, so we’re not dealing with food groups or individual nutrients, it’s more, we wanted to know how can we, within a community, or a town, or a state, actually get people to change their eating habits, their behaviors, so that they’re eating more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less processed foods, so it’s more at the macro level.

Dr. Nelson, we were  hoping you could weigh in on fad diets that have become so popular in the U.S., are they beneficial or harmful?

Where these general diets are helpful is that they really bring up the fact that a lot of the carbohydrates that people are eating right now are poor. They’re highly palatable, really cheap, and very caloric. We’re talking about juices, drinks, and snack foods, pretzels, chips, cookies, and convenience foods and highly processed grains.

We, in the nutrition community, have known that these foods are really contributing to the increase in caloric intake. The plethora of these foods that have been produced, have never been there before.  These popular diets have rightfully brought that up.

However, they have vilified all carbohydrates — whereby fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are really good for you.  People now are very confused to the point where they don’t know what a carbohydrate is.  They don’t realize that oranges and broccoli are carbohydrates. So, there’s a good part about elucidating the problems with  refined carbohydrates, but they throw the ‘baby out with the bath water’ and that’s problematic.

There needs to be a better understanding so people realize for long term health, like cancer prevention, heart disease, eye health, you need fruits and vegetables. You cut those out and, yes, you may lose weight and even you cholesterol might go down, your Triglyceride level definitely will go down, but, it’s at the point where, long term, if you don’t have the fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, you may be increasing your risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and many others.

Did Tufts do any research in regard to successful aging?

Yes, in fact that’s what most of the research was about.  Whether you call it “successful”, or “optimal”, or other terms with the exception of “anti-aging”.  That term is just awful, we’re all going to age, but let’s do it in positive way.  Both exercise and nutrition play a large role.

Your department at Tufts has made positive statements about the value of exercise and in particular, resistance training, can you expand on the benefits you’ve observed?

We’re one piece of the research that’s been done in the field of aging. So, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.  Where we have contributed, not just myself but other colleagues,  is that we have been the first to show the real importance of muscles as we grow older and it seems so obvious now, in the early 1980’s there wasn’t a lot of focus on muscles as we grow older.


“Both cardiovascular and strength are critical because heart disease is the number one killer of women, so we want to be working their heart as well as their muscles.”

It really came about by colleagues in our lab doing work in long term care facilities and realizing that these people were frail and weak and that’s one of the reasons they were so dependent on others’ care.  When you start thinking about frailty and weakness, you then start thinking about combating that which leads you to start thinking about resistance training and strength training.  Through a series of research studies, we’ve looked at the effects of strength training on body composition, muscle, bone, strength, frailty, function, type II diabetes, depression, sleep, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure, and arthritis.

So, we have gathered more information about the importance, especially as you grow older, of strength training for older adults.

Resistance training takes many forms, there is gravity-created, such as free weights and selectorized machines, and there are stretch bands, and there are pneumatic and hydraulic resistance machines. From your view of the data, does it really matter what type of resistance one gets to derive benefit?

I think it doesn’t really matter in the end.  By far the greatest impact is just doing it regularly and having a good program and then also making sure that you’re targeting most of the major muscles groups, and that you’re doing at an intensity that is high enough so that you get benefits and that you’re doing it in proper form.

There are a lot of machines out there which older adults, because of range limiting issues, because of initial weakness, they have difficulty on some machines, not all. The better machines within any category are really fine.

“Both cardiovascular and strength are critical because heart disease is the number one killer of women, so we want to be working their heart as well as their muscles.”

Dr. Nelson, if you had a deconditioned, sedentary women that was only willing to commit a few minutes each day to improve her health, what are the top 2 or 3 must do exercises you would have her do?

I would first want to know what her goals are and expectations that she is willing to commit to. Then I would try to get her, at least twice a week, maybe 20 minutes of strength training, to get at perhaps 5 different muscle groups: core, arms, and legs.

Then I would try to get her to do some brisk walking so she gets cardiovascular. Both cardiovascular and strength are critical because heart disease is the number one killer of women, so we want to be working their heart as well as their muscles.

We’ve talked a lot about women, does any of your research spill over to men’s health?

They’re completely applicable to both men and women. It’s just that men have a larger base of muscles and strength to begin with, so it’s not as critical for men as it is with women. It becomes critical for men 10-15 years later than it does for women. Issues around bone, frailty, falls, are issues that affect more women than men.  20% of men are going to get osteoporosis compared to 50% of women. It’s important to both groups, it’s a matter of relativity.

About Miriam Nelson:

Dr. Miriam Nelson

Dr. Miriam E. Nelson is currently the University of New Hampshire deputy chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute.

Nelson is the author of 10 books, including the New York Times bestselling “Strong Women Stay Young” and eight others in the “Strong Women” series.

In August 2001, Dr. Nelson appeared in her own PBS special entitled Strong Women Live Well, which focused on the benefits of exercise and nutrition for women’s health. She has been featured on many television and radio shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, Fresh Air, and the Discovery Channel.

Physical Flexibility and Anti-Aging

You’re only as young as your spine is flexible.” 

– Joseph Pilates

Did you just grunt getting out of that chair? Probably. Can you really bend over and pick up that pin off the floor? No, you had to stoop down, right?

As we age, our body’s water content in connective tissue, such as ligaments and tendons, decreases, resulting in reduced elasticity and flexibility.  In other words, we move around like old people.

Not to worry, these are early signs of natural rigidity setting into our joints but with dedicated routines, they can be reversed and you can be flexible and supple deep into your older years for added juice in your life.

Why Flexibility is Important as we age

Today, middle-age to senior people are aware of the importance of aerobic exercise, they may even incorporate regular strength training. But most people are unaware of the incredible importance of flexibility training, especially as we age.

If one does absolutely nothing in regard to flexibility they will lose over 30% of their range of motion by the age of 60.  So What?  Well, this leads directly to poor posture, more pulled muscles, and loss of balance. Plus you want to be able to squeeze into that tiny sports car, right?

Stretching reduces the risk of falling

The risk of falling is a major concern for older adults. Each year one out of three older adults will fall and need treatment in emergency facility. Research as show that regular sessions of stretching are critical to balance and stability helping prevent against such falls.

When to Stretch

Don’t have the time to incorporate stretching into your day? Then, how about the time you may spend lying flat in bed with a back spasm? Didn’t plan on that, right?  It’s all about the ounce of prevention.

Make stretching a daily habit but break it up into chunks. Upon waking in the morning make a big yawn and stretch. Build in triggers in your day to remind you to stretch. We recommend doing about 4-5 stretch poses just before your morning meditation, what a way to jump start your mind-body connection.

Simple Stretches

First, we recommend highly that you visit a gym or YMCA and enroll in a formal class to get proper stretching techniques down. Perhaps you can ask them to test your current range of motion so you have goals to strive for.

With that said, you can started right now with these simple to use stretches that cover the important muscles and joints:

Down Dog: good spine, gravity will move your lymph fluids, keep your heels down to stretch those Achilles.
Quad stretch – this is a 2-for-1 in that you will stretch your quadriceps and practice balancing on one foot.


Spinal twist – outstanding for your lower back lateral motion.
Overhead shoulder – don’t overlook this one, as we age, tendonitis can set into the shoulders and be quite painful, keep it supple with this regular routine.


Groin Stretch – This exercise will prevent groin injuries which can be quite painful plus it opens up your hip joints.

Additional Exercises

While regular stretching is a great way to help manage low back pain and arthritis, improve posture, reduce falls, and increase energy levels, there are additional exercises that will aid in healthy aging.

The 500 lb. gorilla of healthy flexibility is yoga. This remarkable form of fitness not only incorporates full body flexibility, but it also directly improves strength, balance, breathing, and calmness of the mind, it doesn’t get any better than this.

In addition you can advance your flexibility with other classes:

  •  Tai chi
  •   Pilates
  •    Lotte Berk Method
  •   Water Therapy

In conclusion, don’t delay, get started on your stretching program today to maintain vigor as you age.



The Paradox of Semi-Retirement

Oops, you’re not far away from retirement, you looked at your IRA balance… meager. So how are you going to pull it off?  Paradoxically, working just a little during your retirement, can be the answer to achieving all that you ultimately wished for in retirement: time freedom, travel, stress-free. Here are some basic principles for you to develop a strategy and a proper attitude.

The Halcyon Days are Gone

Since you were very young, you heard your parents talk about “retirement” and how great it was going to be. Your mom might have stayed at home to raise you kids, and kept the home. Your dad may have been a middle manager at a firm that offered a pension. And when your parents turned 65 years of age they probably did retire, the house was paid off, there was a pension and social security, and those weeks in Florida during winter…life was good.

Is that what you’re expecting, boomer? That same scenario? Forgetaboutit. Why? Well, there have been a couple of seismic shifts from our parents’ generation to ours, just to vamp on three:

  • The demise of pensions
  • The elimination of decent salaried middle management jobs
  • Longer life expectancies
Your parents enjoyed the halcyon days of family life just like Ozzie and Harriet, but those days are gone.

The Demise of Pensions

The burden of securing funding for retirement has shifted from companies that offered pensions to either IRA’s or 401(k)’s where the employee is now solely responsible.  It’s a sad fact, but most boomers simply haven’t saved enough in their personal retirement funds. Yes there will be social security but that won’t be nearly enough.

In your father’s era, large corporations offered pensions that were carefully managed by highly educated and highly trained financial managers who could invest properly to fund the disbursements.  Plus, the new young hires would finance the old retiring employees, and it worked great for a while. But it turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that wasn’t sustainable in the long run, and it’s thus it’s gone. Poof.

The Elimination of Middle Management a/k/a Downsizing

In the post-World War II era, the world was economically ravaged by war. Because the factories were bombed out over there and not on U.S. soil, we were able to jump start a powerful peace time economy. It was so powerful that families only needed one income and we could have that “Ozzie and Harriet” family lifestyle.

However, when the other economies finally recovered, the world flattened and it became globally competitive. Cars were made in Japan, IT jobs moved to India and a new management surgical procedure was implemented – downsizing.

Many boomers, perhaps yourself, faced job losses at a later stage in life. Most never got the salary they were accustomed to and had to tighten the belt. With no pension, they just weren’t making the deposits to their retirement accounts.

Longer Life Expectancy

The good news, and bad, is that if you’re still alive at age 51, statistically speaking, you could live another 30 years to the age of 81 and even beyond. That means if you retire at say age 66, you will have to self-finance about 20 years of living.

Contrarily, if your parents were born around the 1930’s their life expectancy, statistically speaking, was to age 60. So, you’ll statically have an extra 20 years of life over them, but where’s all that money going to come from?

There’ also another big gotcha, how are you going to exit this world? Will you be stricken down by a massive heart attack and be buried 3 days later? (Sad, but not an excessive financial burden.) Or, will you and/or your spouse be stricken with a stroke or Alzheimer’s and require expensive assisted living for years and years gobbling up all your finances?

It’s a sheer lottery as to when our last day on earth will be, and how expensive health care and assisted living will be those last weeks or months.

You’ll Need a Contingency Fund for End of Life

Nursing home stays can be very expensive, make sure you have a contingency fund.

This part is going to be really unpleasant, but better to realize it now rather than when the day comes.

According to US News, a semi-private room in a nursing home runs on average $222 daily, or more than $81,000 per year! And the average nursing home stay is 28 months. So, doing the math, if you’re average and require nursing home care you will need $185,000 per spouse, or $370,000 in reserve for this contingency alone. Will you have it? Or, pass the burden to your children?

Standard Retirement Income Streams

Keeping it simple, there are three standard income streams for retirees:

  • Pensions
  • Social Security
  • IRA Draw Downs

If you started your career in the public sector, congratulations, you probably have a pension to fall back on. The rest of you in the private sector enjoyed more income during our working days, but there’s no federal annuity coming. So, nothing coming in from the pension channel.

Thank FDR for our social security benefits. But can you really live on $1,400 per month? That’s what the average payout is to over 40 million recipients. Hopefully, yours is much more.

The 3rd factor and most variable is your IRA balance when you retire. Most middle-agers don’t have nearly enough. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, most Americans in the 55-59 age group average about $122,957 in their IRAs.

Sounds like a lot right? Wrong.

At age 55, if you’re socking away 10% of your $60,000 per year salary into your IRA, and maintaining a 5% compounded return, you will have about $295,000 in your IRA by age 66. If you start withdrawing 4% of your balance each year (the formula most financial advisors agree upon) that gives you slightly less than $12K per year. There goes your plans for a vagabonding through Europe.

Wait, what if you could add another income stream for that “fun” money in retirement?

Semi-retirement, the Magic Bullet

What if there was a way of adding another income stream without adding stress or minimizing your time freedom, or getting in the way of extended trips? There is, it called semi-retirement.

Imagine adding an income stream of up to $2,000 per month or $24,000 per year on top of your IRA draw down and social security, how much is that worth to you?

Well, if you do the math, at 5% yield and not touching the principal, you would comparably need $480,000 in savings to yield that amount. Amazing, more than you have currently saved up, right?

O.K., I hear you, “I’m tired of work, I don’t want a boss hovering over me, I want to fish more, I want to spend more time with my grandchildren, I don’t want to be hemmed in.”

I get it. So, let’s set some ground rules for the what we’ll need out of this semi-retirement job

It truly has to be “part-time”, 20 hours per week or less. The hiring firm has to realize that if they mess up they can’t expect you to work more than this amount.

Build in long vacation times and sabbatical. Your job can’t be so mission critical that you can’t take off for 6 weeks for a European trip if you wanted to.

Your ideal wage would be between $20 – $25 per hour so that you can achieve your goal of an extra $2,000 per month.

As for the stressful boss issue. Most companies are so grateful to get seasoned mature workers that they treat them like princes and princesses. And if they don’t, you walk.

Ideas Jobs for Part Time Work

O.K. where are you going to find that ideal semi-retired job?

You’re only limited by your own imagination, but let’s give you some fertile ground to explore:

Previous Employers

If you did good work for a previous company, the may be willing to discuss bringing you back in at a scaled down level – give it a shot.

If you were highly skilled in your field, you could hang your shingle out as a consultant, choose your clients and choose your hours.

Or, if you were a decent business person, you can hang your shingle out as a business coach. There are a plethora of young entrepreneurs that need mature business guidance.

Sales Reps

There are a host of products and services to be sold. Many companies are willing to offer commission only deals, but pick up expenses.  This could be selling via the phone in a business to business scenario. Or, merely generating appointments for field reps to follow up on. You can spend as much or little time as your wish.

If you’re a little more entrepreneurial, you can become a sub-agent in merchant services (credit card processing) or work under a realtor.

Until Amazon sells everything on the planet, there are many independently owned retailers just dying for reliable in-store sales associates.

Seasonal Work

With more and more retail sales occurring over the web, all those packages need to get delivered. That means seasonal hires but the big package delivery firms like UPS, FedEx and others. A good way to earn income in a few weeks and take the rest of the year off.

Start Your own Sales Business

Hundreds of thousands of people earn a living reselling stuff on eBay.  If you’re good at finding value at flea markets or peoples’ attics, this may be good for you. All you really need is a smartphone camera and the ability to write accurate descriptions of products.

If you’re good at design and making your own clothing, jewelry, etc. then Etsy may be for you.

Excess Capacity Opportunities

If you own a halfway decent car you can set your own hours and work for Uber of Lyft.

Similarly, if you have a decent apartment or home in area where people like to visit or vacation, and have another place to crash, you can rent your home on AirBnB, Home Away, and the like.


Do you like to teach?  You can put your master’s degree to use and become an adjunct professor at a nearby college.  Or, how about a teacher’s aid in your local public school, a great way to get summers off.

Home Based Jobs

There are a number of home based businesses out there, such as pet sitting, you’re only limited by your imagination

If you already know how to build websites, web development is ideal for part time work out of your home.  You’ll have to get out and network to pick up customers.

There’s a growing field for virtual assistants that can work from home. This may be helping a self-employed entrepreneur to focus on the core of their business while you handle the mundane of staying on budget, answering email, booking appointments, handling phone calls and the like.

With the aging population there is high demand for at-home non-medical senior care. With the high expenses of resident assisted living, the more affordable solution is at-home senior care. If you’re a care giver and enjoy intermingling with seniors, this may be an opportunity for you.

Pets are prolific, another freelance opportunity is to be a dog walker, or pet sitter. Pet sitting usually involves overnight stays which doubles up as house sitting. Most pet owners don’t like to place their loved pets in the kennels, so pet sitting is a growing field.

Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing is portrayed as a pyramid, but it need not be. If you find a product that you truly love, whether it be Amway, Avon, health juices, go for it and sell the product to everyone you know. If you happen to build a sales force under you than you’ll make additional passive income.

This is only a partial list. With heightened awareness, you can create your own par time job or business.

It’s up to you

Remember, the quality of your (semi) retirement lies solely with you, there’s no one else to blame. Get started now.


Natural Ways to Combat Depression

Depression affects people of all ages, even teenagers. It affects over 19 million Americans a year, and unfortunately the condition is twice as common in females as in males.

But there are certain factors that can increase depression as we age. According to Johns Hopkins you’re “more likely to develop depression if you are between ages 45 and 64, nonwhite, or divorced, and if you never graduated high school, can’t work or are unemployed, and don’t have health insurance.”

Depression affects 19 million Americans a year, with the condition twice as common in females than in males.

The entire boomer generation will experience events that can trigger depression: the loss of a spouse, partner or close friends, financial calamity, deteriorating health, loss of independence…the list goes on.

Unless one wants to have a Prozac crutch the rest of their life, a little bit of awareness and a little change in diet and lifestyle could level off your mood, abate depression, and get you a whole lot healthier. It’s a natural neurotransmitter in our system called serotonin.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that dramatically affects our moods. It’s formed in the brain and primarily found in three parts of the body – the brain, the lining of the digestive tract, and in blood platelets. In the brain, serotonin’s main effects include improving mood and giving you that “satisfied” feeling from food. It’s also thought to help promote sleep and relaxation.

“So what’s the big deal about eating pasta to chase away the blues? The big problem is…there is also a spike in insulin which could cause weight gain if done consistently, and guess what? Something else to get depressed about.”

It is believed that serotonin levels that are too low can cause depression. Depression affects 19 million Americans a year, with the condition twice as common in females than in males.

It turns out that women are more susceptible to depression caused by lowered serotonin. According to noted author Dr. Nicholas Perricone MD, because of their unique brain chemistry, women naturally have lower levels of serotonin, and this important “feel-good chemical” drops even lower during menstrual cycles. Without consciously knowing, in order to raise levels of serotonin rapidly, women tend to eat carbohydrates, which boosts blood sugar resulting in a rise of serotonin levels.

So what’s the big deal about eating pasta to chase away the blues? The big problem is. In addition to that serotonin elevation, there is also a spike in insulin which could cause weight gain if done consistently, and guess what? Something else to get depressed about.

Through more beneficial foods, one can elevate their serotonin level without spiking their insulin levels. Try turkey, black eyed-peas, black and English walnuts, almonds, sesame or pumpkin seeds, and cheddar, gruyere or Swiss cheese.

Exercise and Increased Serotonin Levels

Another way to maintain a consistently appropriate level of serotonin is to exercise regularly. It is impossible to overdose on serotonin, or any natural body chemical, brought on by exercise.

Researchers at Duke University demonstrated several years ago that exercise can be an effective antidepressant. Putting aside for the moment, that cardiovascular exercise can produce endorphins otherwise known as a “runner’s high”, it is also an effective remedy for depression.

Animal studies have found that exercise increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. All of these neurotransmitters have been associated with elevated mood, and it is thought that antidepressant medications like Prozac also work by boosting these chemicals.

“You don’t have become a gym rat and spend endless hours at a health club to combat depression, just a little will go a long ways.”

Exercise has also been found to increase levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). This substance is thought to improve mood, and it may play a role in the beneficial effects of exercise. BDNF’s primary role seems to be to help brain cells survive longer; so this may also explain some of the beneficial effects of exercise on dementia.

You don’t have become a gym rat and spend endless hours at a health club to combat depression, just a little will go a long ways. Consider joining a local express gym where you could get benefit from three one-half hours sessions a week, and gain both strength and cardiovascular health at the same time and drop a few pounds to boot.

At the very least, walk. You can start off slowly and increase your distance and pace over time. Find something, anything, that you enjoy, that will elevate your heart rate, and make it a weekly habit. This will benefit both your body and your brain.

Sometimes Diet and Exercise Just Are Not Enough

Chronic depression is something that should not be taken lightly. If altering your diet and increasing your exercise don’t snap you out of it, you should seek medical help.

Some cases of depression are influenced by reduced quantities or activity of serotonin in the brain. Certain medications like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) work to balance serotonin levels in the brain. For some people, SSRIs, such as Prozac, may be helpful.

However, the causes and solutions might be more involved than unbalanced serotonin levels alone. A medical professional can help determine the best course of action.



Does Strength Training Affect Blood Pressure?

Good boomer health requires regular exercise to stay strong, flexible and to keep excess weight off. But, can too much of a good thing be harmful to your health in the way of elevated blood pressure?

The Mayo Clinic actually advises at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise as a natural way to lower blood pressure. They state that daily exercise so can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Woman Lifting Weights

O.K. that’s aerobic exercise, but what about weight lifting? Older men and women, more so than younger adults, face muscle loss due to sarcopenia. The antidote to sarcopenia is to keep a regular regiment of resistance training to mitigate loss of lean muscle mass. The added benefit is muscle eats fat 24/7. But can all that straining during resistance training actually raise your blood pressure?

To get the answer we asked Dr. Wayne Westcott, PhD, who has authored or co-authored 22 books on fitness including Strength Training Past 50, Strength Training for Seniors. He conducted no less than 5 major studies on the topic of weight training’s effect on blood pressure.

Here’s what he told us:

The most pervasive misconception in the field of exercise is that strength training raises blood pressure (both resting and exercise readings) to dangerous levels, and is, therefore, a contraindicated physical activity for many middle-aged and older adults.

Although it is true that people with certain medical conditions should not perform resistance exercise (e.g., uncontrolled hypertension, aneurism). It is also true that certain resistance training actions can elevate blood pressure beyond recommended exercise readings (e.g., breath holding, isometric holding, and extreme heavy weight load).

The conclusions of all his studies was that when sensibly applied, weight training does not elevate resting blood pressure. In fact, properly performed resistance exercise can produce beneficial blood pressure adaptations in as little as 2 months of regular strength training.

So, get to the gym and keep your weight training in place. Just don’t hold your breath while you exercise.

Her are Dr. Westcott’s guidelines for sensible strength training:

Dr. Wayne Westcott, PhD.

Never hold your breath when performing resistance exercise.

Use weight loads that can be performed with correct exercise technique for at least 8 controlled repetitions.

Keep the weight load moving throughout each exercise set, taking about 2 seconds for the lifting actions and about 4 seconds for the lowering actions. Never hold your weight load in a static muscle contraction.

Keep breathing throughout each exercise set, exhaling during the lifting actions and inhaling during the lowering actions.

Use relatively loose hand grips whenever possible.

Keep your face and neck muscles as relaxed as possible throughout each set of exercise.

Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol Part 3

Beyond Diet and Exercise: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Cholesterol

For some people, diet and exercise just won’t be enough to lower their cholesterol. But there’s one more step before moving on to prescription medication. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that certain alternative approaches can successfully improve cholesterol.


Niacin is actually a B vitamin that has been shown to not only lower LDL and triglycerides, but also to raise HDL. When taken in doses in the area of 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day, LDL levels are usually reduced by about 5% -15%, and up to 25% in some patients.

Also called nicotinic acid or vitamin B3, it decreases production of particles in the liver that are necessary for carrying cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream. Although it is a B vitamin, the high dosages required to affect cholesterol should be taken only under a physician’s supervision.

Such high doses are considered “pharmacologic” and must be prescribed by a qualified healthcare practitioner. The practitioner will instruct you on how to increase the amount of niacin slowly, over the course of 4 to 6 weeks, and to take the medicine with meals to avoid stomach irritation.


Phytosterols  are naturally occurring plant compounds that block the body from absorbing cholesterol. Their chemical make-up is similar to cholesterol, so that they fool the body and block the absorption of cholesterol.      Phytosterols are benign and not absorbed by the body.

 Food sources highest in phytosterols:
Sunflower seeds
Sesame seeds
Wheat germGood secondary sources of phytosterols:
Pumpkin seeds
Pine nuts
Macadamia nuts

Plant Stanols and Sterols

Plant stanols and sterols occur naturally in small amounts in many plants. Those used in certain food products are taken from soybean and tall pine tree oils. Plant stanols and sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract, which therefore helps to lower LDL. Studies show that a daily intake of about 2 grams of either stanols or sterols reduces LDL cholesterol by about 5% – 15% often within weeks.

Stanol and sterol esters can be found branded margarines. The product, Benecol contains stanol ester while Take Control contains sterol ester. Both Benecol and Take Control are low in saturated fat and trans fat and are considered healthy margarines.


Turmeric, the spicy yellow ingredient found in Indian food, contains the active ingredient, curcumin. Recent research suggests that curcumin may reduce cholesterol by interfering with intestinal cholesterol uptake, increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids, and increasing the excretion of bile acids. Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol to a more dangerous form that is more likely to end up in your arteries.

Medical authors such as Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Nicolas Perricone advise copious amounts of turmeric in your diet for a host of health reasons, not to mention the flavor – Bon Appetit.

Red Rice Yeast Extract

Originating in Asia, red rice yeast extract derives from the activities of red yeast on rice and the byproduct has been proven to lower cholesterol. It contains the same ingredient found in prescription statin drugs, and statin drugs have a physiological effect on the liver. Consequently, the use of red rice yeast extract should be considered risky and not taken without consulting your physician.

The Indian Guggul

Guggulipid is extracted from guggul and also contains plant sterols. Guggul is a yellowish resin produced by the mukul mirth tree, a small, thorny plant that grows throughout northern India. Several studies suggest guggul and guggulipid lower cholesterol levels. However, the jury is still out on this one and more evidence may be needed.

When All Else Fails: The Use of Statin Drugs

If all diet, exercise and alternative measures fail, then a prescription route may need to be followed. Again, remember all those sorcerer’s brooms building up cholesterol in your arteries year after year, you don’t want to let this go.

The advent of powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins (with brand names such as Crestor, Lipitor, Zocor, and the like) has made it possible for virtually anyone to safely slash total and LDL cholesterol. Discuss this option with your family doctor.

Unfortunately, statins are costly and have side effects. And worst of all, once started you’re on them for life. According to the NIH, “Statins stop an enzyme that controls the rate at which the body produces cholesterol. They lower LDL levels more than other types of drugs-about 20% -55% -and also moderately lower triglycerides and raise HDL.


Heart Disease is the number one killer in the U.S. Science to date attributes the depositing of plaque on artery walls via excess cholesterol as a major contributor. Control this substance now and you can mitigate the risk of heart disease later in life. Extreme cases will require prescription medication and close monitoring by a physician.

As always, prevention is best. However, the simple, but permanent, lifestyle changes outlined in this piece can cut it off at the pass.




Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol Part 2

The Natural Route: Try Diet and Exercise First

Should you discover that you have elevated LDL cholesterol and a low HDL factor, your doctor will most likely insist that you immediately go on a statin drug. Forgive her. It’s not her fault, that’s the training doctors get in Western medicine — a system that only reimburses for drugs and surgery and not diet and lifestyle changes.

But we also live in an era of the educated patient, and you have the right to collaborate with your doctor to try alternative means before going on statin drugs for the rest of your life. So discuss the natural route first to see if you can get your numbers in the healthy range.

But also realize that your doctor probably has received no training in nutrition or exercise to help prescribe a program to you. She will most likely tell you to eliminate red meat and dairy products and walk or exercise more. For some, this may be enough, but for many it will not and bigger changes in diet and exercise will need to be implemented to affect improvement.

The Value of Aerobic Exercise

Exercise is a proven way to improve cholesterol. It sets off a series of enzymatic reactions in the body that increase HDL and lower triglycerides.

Probably the person most credited for launching the aerobics craze of the eighties, was Dr. Kenneth Cooper in his landmark book, Aerobics.

According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, regular aerobic exercise will contribute to increasing HDL and lowering triglycerides.

According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, regular aerobic exercise will contribute to increasing HDL and lowering triglycerides.

He’s also written sequel books on exercising for better health, including improving one’s cholesterol. In his book Controlling Cholesterol The Natural Way, Cooper advises:

“We’ve known for a long time that exercise – especially aerobic exercise done over a sustained period of 20 to 30 minutes or so at least 3 days per week – can raise the level of “good’ HDL cholesterol by 5-10%… another fact that we have known for a while is that exercise can lower levels of blood triglycerides… [this] involves the release during exercise of an enzyme known as lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, which breaks down the triglycerides for use as body fuel.”

Therefore regular aerobic exercise, walking, jogging, biking, say 3 times per week for 30 minutes even at only 50% of aerobic maximum will burn up triglycerides while stimulating more HDL…not to mention how good it will make you feel.

A Healthy Story…

James is a walking testament that exercise and nutrition can improve HDL.

He exercised off and on his entire life, mostly running, biking and strength training.

But last May his total cholesterol count climbed to 208, well into the borderline range. he wasn’t that worried about it since his HDL factor was 3.2, below Dr. Cooper’s 3.5 prescribed threshold for health risk.

He went on Lipitor briefly, but quickly got off because he was experiencing side effects. So he committed to stepping up his nutrition and exercise regimen even more to improve his HDL factor the natural way.

Although he kept his ongoing strength training routine using a mixture of free weights and Nautilus machines, he added a twice-per-week racquetball routine to the mix — something that he enjoys and doesn’t even realize that he’s exercising.

By the following January his HDL level improved by another 30 mg/dL, and that improved his  HDL factor to an even healthier 2.72.

Only time will tell if he can stay in the healthy zone strictly through exercise and nutrition, but he figures that every year that is drug free is a good year.

Stress Management Through Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi

Daily stress raises your cholesterol levels. Therefore any form of stress-management technique may help lower it. All forms of exercise will relieve stress and keep you in the “present moment.” In particular, mind-body exercise that emphasizes concentration on breath, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi, are exceptional forms of stress management.

Specific Dietary Changes to Lower LDL

One could write books on all the various foods that affect some component of cholesterol. One basic concept to understand is that cholesterol comes from two sources, the food you eat and your own body. The cholesterol in your system from diet is only about 20%. That means 80% is manufactured by your liver.

There is much inconclusive discussion on whether eliminating dietary cholesterol has any affect on health at all. But again, based on current science, it is recommended that the intake of dietary cholesterol be minimized. This underscores the importance of reading those food labels.

The elimination of high cholesterol items such as milk products and egg yolks is healthier anyway. Milk products are high in saturated fats and egg yolks are high in arachidonic acid, and their reduced intake is good for overall health.

Limiting Dietary Cholesterol

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute advise that you limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day. Certain foods with high concentrations of dietary cholesterol should be limited. Beef, pork and bacon have anywhere from 80 to 90 mg. of cholesterol per 3 ½ once serving. Lamb has 122 mg. and veal 128 mg. Fried chicken with the skin on is an unhealthy 167 mg., while roasting it with the skin off is a healthier 85 mg., the same as turkey. Boiled shrimp tops the list with 195 mg. per serving.

Limit Daily Intake of Saturated Fats

Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. Americans eat an average of 11% of their total calories as saturated fat. Your liver uses saturated fat to make LDL cholesterol.

Saturated fat is identifiable as a solid at room and refrigerator temperatures. It is found in the greatest amount in foods from animals, such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin on, whole-milk dairy products and lard, as well as in some vegetable oils, including tropical oils like coconut and palm oils.

Eliminate All Trans Fats

Trans fats are bad for a number of reasons, only one being that it increases cholesterol. Although the package for margarine may say 0% cholesterol, the bad news is that it stimulates the liver’s production of cholesterol.

Trans fatty acids are formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Common in a range of food products – biscuits, chips, doughnuts, crackers – the hydrogenated vegetable fat is used by food processors because it is solid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life.

So, as you read those food labels, eliminate all foods that contain the phrase hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.

Eat Fewer High Glycemic Foods

High glycemic foods turn to glucose very quickly in the bloodstream and are generally bad for health for a number of reasons . You should eat fewer simple carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, white rice, and high-fructose corn syrup, which can markedly increase your triglycerides. These should be offset with lower glycemic foods like unrefined, complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products.

Foods That Improve Cholesterol

O.K., now that have a list of items to either eliminate or reduce in your diet, there are others that you should try to increase in your diet to improve your cholesterol make-up.

Soluble Fiber Inhibits the Absorption of Cholesterol

In addition to reducing the intake of dietary cholesterol, another remedy is to block your absorption of cholesterol in the first place and that’s where soluble fiber does the trick nicely.

Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like substance in the intestines. The substance helps to block cholesterol and fats from being absorbed through the wall of the intestines into the blood stream. Research shows that people who increased their soluble fiber intake by 5 – 10 grams each day had about a 5% drop in their LDL cholesterol. The NIH recommends that you get at least 5 – 10 grams of soluble fiber a day-and, preferably, 10-25 grams a day, which will lower your LDL even more.

Brussels sprouts, pinto beans, navy beans, lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, pears (with skin), whole citrus fruits (not juice), and psyllium are high sources of soluble fiber.

The Value of Oats

Your mother was right, eat your oatmeal. It’s proven to reduce LDL cholesterol.

Oats should be part of your daily diet to control cholesterol. Oats contain Beta-glucan, which has also been shown to lower LDL. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service have developed a new oat variety containing higher levels of beta-glucan. This variety may soon allow food manufacturers to offer smaller portions of whole oat products that will pack the same health benefits as ordinary oats. Also on the horizon is “HiFi”, which is not a stereo system but a new strain of oat that lowers LDL even further.

Red Grapefruit

According to Dr. Shela Gorinstein of Hebrew University, one red grapefruit a day will keep the cholesterol away and help prevent heart disease. Her team’s study published in the March 2006 issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that red grapefruit (more so than white grapefruit) was effective in lowering cholesterol, although it is not yet clear as to why.

To be continued in next post…










Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol part 1

Aging and Rising Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol levels tend to rise as we age, but when should one reach for a statin drug for presumably the rest of their life?

The matter should not be take lightly, it is a forerunner to heart disease — the No. 1 killer in the US, responsible for 37% of all deaths.

According to Louisiana State University AgCenter nutritionist, Beth Reames, one out of every two men and one out of every three women will develop heart disease sometime in their lives. That’s a big percentage and the philosophy of wellness is to proactively address health risks before they become medical conditions.

As with all health issues, we can only respond to the science that is available at the moment. There are conflicting theories. Some suggest that rising LDL is not a threat, per se, but is a player in a biological conspiracy. Alternate theories label inflammation as the chief culprit. But until links between heart disease, C-Reactive Protein and Homocysteine (measures of inflammation) are more readily used, we must stick with the cholesterol yardstick, know our numbers and take proactive measures.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Cholesterol Keeps Rising Over Time

Remember the Disney story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The brooms kept carrying buckets of water and, over time, an unmanageable ocean was formed.

The same phenomenon happens with cholesterol deposits; they keep building year by year and cause a narrowing of our artery walls. In some cases this leads to a coronary block and either angina or a cardiac arrest.

As children we start out with a low total cholesterol reading somewhere in the 30-70 mg/dL range. (The yardstick for measuring cholesterol and all its subcomponent parts is milligrams per deciliter). As maturing adults that number trends upward for most of us and breaks into the 200s by middle age.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol measured in a while, it’s high time, because it’s probably gone up. Aging boomers are having an impact on total population numbers. A recent report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that an estimated 63 million U.S. adults have high LDL cholesterol levels, and as a consequence, 38 million are at increased risk for heart disease.

Regardless of your age, you should begin to make lifestyle and dietary changes now that will keep this beast in its cage. Even the young should make adjustments, because they can more easily adopt lifelong dietary and lifestyle changes that will stave off a cholesterol problem later. First of all, it’s not all bad. Cholesterol is an odorless, white, waxy, powdery substance that is found in every cell of our bodies. We actually need a certain amount of it to sustain life. It is an important building block for cell membranes, hormones and vitamin D. It also aids in the digestion of fat into caloric energy.

Cholesterol consists of lipoproteins. A lipoprotein is a combination of fat (lipid) and protein that wraps around the individual fat molecules in our bodies, transporting them throughout our bodies and aiding in the digestion of fat.

But too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. Many factors in modern society cause cholesterol to elevate as we age. Evolution never addressed the problem of too much cholesterol in our bodies because we never used to live this long. Therefore we have to take control, get smarter and take preventive measures. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended cholesterol test is called a ‘lipoprotein profile.’ It measures the levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in the blood. The lipoprotein profile is calculated from a small sample of blood after a 9 to 12-hour fast.

Know Your Numbers

The 3 numbers that are most closely monitored are HDL, LDL and triglycerides — the good, the bad and the ugly. LDL is singled out as the real bad guy and triglycerides are his general accomplice.

Think of HDL as Clint Eastwood. It actually sops up the harmful LDL which needs to be removed from the system. So, you want more HDL and less of LDL. Actually LDL is not in itself bad, it’s excess LDL that is bad. In fact without some LDL you could not survive. Aristotle’s “everything in moderation” rules.

Triglycerides are fats that, as the name implies, consist of three fatty acids attached to a molecule of glycerol. The role triglycerides play in heart disease is conflicting. But generally speaking, it is a good idea to have low triglyceride levels. O.K., so we want to keep our LDL number nice and low, but what’s the acceptable range? And when should we be concerned? According to the American Heart Association, adults age 20 or older should have their cholesterol levels checked minimally every five years. Unfortunately many people ignore this and walk around with elevated cholesterol levels without knowing it.

Here Are The Ranges For The Various Components:

Component Healthy Borderline Unhealthy
Total Cholesterol < 200 200 – 239 > 240
LDL < 100 100 -159 > 160
HDL > 60 41 – 60 < 40
Triglycerides < 150 150 -199 > 200
HDL Factor — Men 3.5 3.6 – 5.4 5.5
HDL Factor — Women 3.0 3.1 – 4.1 4.2

Sources: American Heart Association and Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book: Controlling Cholesterol the Natural Way.

In the old days there was a simple decision process, doctors only monitored the total cholesterol count and when that got above 200, they would write a prescription for a statin medication to bring it down. Recent scientific advances now look at the interplay between the component parts

A New View on Cholesterol

New thought on cholesterol does not focus on the “total cholesterol count” but gives strong consideration to the ratio of its subcomponent parts — particularly the relationship between HDL and total cholesterol. Recall that HDL is the good stuff that actually removes LDL from our blood vessels.

Think of LDL and HDL as transport vehicles. LDL transports cholesterol to your arteries and deposits it there. HDL retrieves cholesterol from your arteries and expels it through the liver. So, if your HDL and LDL are in balance, if you are retrieving as much as you are depositing, theoretically you’re at less risk even though you may have a high total cholesterol count.

As an analogy, imagine that you have a crew of workmen dumping 100 wheelbarrow loads of dirt per hour into a pit, and another crew of workman removing dirt from that very same pit at the same rate of 100 wheelbarrow loads per hour. Dirt will never accumulate in that pit. Similarly, the same holds true for cholesterol. For example, let’s say you’re male with a total cholesterol of 200. According to our chart above, you would be categorized as borderline. But let’s say your HDL level is 60. Then the HDL ratio is calculated as follows:

HDL Factor = Total cholesterol / HDL

HDL Factor = 200/60=3.3

When we refer to the chart above, the 3.3 number is in the healthy zone for men. This is significant because there are many natural ways to elevate your HDL number.

Unfortunately, many schooled MD’s are still only looking at the total cholesterol number when they advise treatment, especially the prescription of statin drugs. You should discuss the HDL factor with your doctor and see if she agrees that your risk is lower and therefore you don’t need medications.

To be continued in our next post…

The Lotte Berk Method Rediscovered

Strength and Flexibility

In the world of boomer life, exercise is paramount to life with juice.  Whether it be to maintain a golf handicap, pickup grandchildren, or taking the groceries out of the car, as we age we need to maintain strength and flexibility.

For you women, there is an exercise protocol that has been around for seventy years and is still going strong in studios and DVDs, read on…

The definition of a “classic” is thing or event of lasting significance. In the fitness world there is an unheralded classic exercise method long practiced by the cognoscenti of Manhattan and the Hamptons and has spread throughout the U.S. in the form of the plethora of barre exercises.

The exercise method was originally developed over 40 years ago by Ms. Lydia Bach who improved upon a rehabilitative method used by Ms. Lotte Berk, a Jewish dancer who fled Nazi Germany and relocated in London. After a year of study with Lotte Berk, in 1970, Ms. Bach bought the worldwide rights to “The Lotte Berk Method” name and brought it back to the U.S., opened her studios and began a journey of continuous improvement of this unique exercise method.

The Lotte Berk Method blends in the best of yoga, dance, stretching, and strength building. Because of its ability to transform bodies into long, sleek, attractive figures, the Method is highly coveted by professional models, dancers, actors, and New York’s trendsetters.

For over 3 decades Ms. Bach continually perfected the Method and embellishing the brand.

Lydia Bach with her teachers at her original Manhattan studio

Imitation Is the Highest Form of Flattery

With the proven results given by the Lotte Berk Method, a lot of clones have sprung up across the U.S. claiming to be based upon the Method but don’t have the originality nor the 3 decades of development that Ms. Bach brought to the technique.

One of the hallmarks of the Lotte Berk Method is the reshaping of the gluts into what she calls “high round assets” that’s sure to attract the attention of the opposite sex. The results are best achieved via use of a ballet barre.

The Lotte Berk Method DVDs

The original Method that was famous in Manhattan, was modified and published in a four series DVD set.  The beauty is that, with the exception of some light dumbbells, women can exercise in the privacy of their own home and get similar results to those in studios.

The Lotte Berk Method 4-pack DVD Set.

Learn more about the DVDs: