When it comes to getting you knocked into shape, regardless of age, the time you have to commit, budget and location, New York-based Joe Dowdell is your man.
The one-time trainer to Gerard Butler, 50 Cent, Britney Spears and Anne Hathaway and founder of one of America’s top private training facilities now shares his expertise with the world via a range of affordable and easy-to-follow online programs.
Even for those of us at 50 So What who were thinking their best physical days were behind them!
Still not convinced?
We tracked Joe down in the Big Apple for the answers to the fitness questions that were troubling our readers the most.
Why, in my late 40s, has my body shape changed (literally overnight!). I am eating and exercising the same, but things are going downhill.
Joe: The reality is your body shape doesn’t change overnight and it’s probably been changing progressively over an extended period of time but you were just not aware of it. I used to be more in the “don’t weigh yourself” camp and I would just use skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impendence or some other form of tracking body fat percentage as well as lean muscle and fat mass. But, I’ve changed my mind on this over the years (at least for the vast majority of people) because weekly body weight tracking whereby you weigh yourself first thing in the morning (before eating) on the same day every week can be a really valuable tool.
There is a saying, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Therefore, if you are actively monitoring your body weight and circumference measurements, you will be more aware of weight/fat gain before it gets going too much in the wrong direction. And then, you can quickly implement some strategies to get things moving in the right direction sooner rather than later.
Also, I find that people often think they are exercising and/or eating the same as usual but perhaps they aren’t. Unless you are tracking these things, you really have no idea, you are just relying on subjective data. Research shows that people tend to over-estimate their activity levels and under-estimate the caloric intake.
That being said, as we age we do have a tendency to lose lean muscle mass without any intervention (i.e., strength training). A decrease in lean muscle mass will lead to a decrease in your resting metabolic rate which means you will be burning fewer calories both while resting and exercising.
So this is one of the main reasons why strength training is so important as we age because we want to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. In addition, there are other reasons as well like improving insulin sensitivity, increasing bone density, developing muscle strength and power, etc. but hopefully this answers the above question and makes you realise the importance of tracking, awareness and strength training in creating a strong, lean, healthy body.
Do I need to change my diet as I hit middle age to maintain my current weight?
Joe: I don’t think there should be a tremendous difference in your dietary approach while you are aging with the exception of being really diligent about hitting your optimal daily protein needs (i.e., ≈ .82 grams per pound of body weight per day in order to optimise muscle protein synthesis); dietary fibre needs (25-30 grams per day for women and 35-40 grams per day for men) and possibly taking a really good multivitamin and mineral for over 40 years of age as what I like to refer to as an insurance policy. In addition, one may want to eat more fish and/or take an omega 3 supplement with high concentration of EPA & DHA per 1 gram (i.e., greater than 30%) as EPA is good for inflammation and DHA is important for cognitive function. I’d recommend getting somewhere between 1-3 grams of EPA/DHA per day.
Maintaining your current weight is about matching your daily (or weekly) caloric intake with your caloric expenditure. It’s always going to be easier to control intake, relatively speaking, than trying to do it via expenditure. In other words, the time that it takes to burn a 350-500 calorie surplus can take 30-45 minutes of vigorous exercise for most people compared to just reducing you intake over the course of a couple of meals.
I’m having hormone issues. What diet and exercise can help as I head towards menopause?
Joe: Honestly, if you are having hormone issues the best thing to do is see an endocrinologist and get a full blood panel to see what may be going on. There is a big difference between acute fluctuations of hormones vs. chronic elevations or decreases in various hormones. The human body is a complex organism and people like to blame a single hormone for their weight gain. It would be improper for me or any trainer for that matter to start medically diagnosing people. As a profession, it is our responsibility to stay in our lane and refer out to a qualified health or medical professional for things that we are not trained in such as endocrinology.
That being said, the reality is that people should be focusing on evaluating their lifestyle to see if they can implement better strategies to improve their body composition. These lifestyle changes include improving sleep quality and duration (which can improve the production or optimisation of certain hormone levels like Growth Hormone, Ghrelin, Leptin and Cortisol) as well as nutritional intake (both portion control and food quality), increasing activities of daily living and making sure to prioritise strength training over other forms of exercise (i.e., three days a week of total body strength training on non-consecutive days).
So when it comes to exercising, strength training should be the main course and cardio should be dessert. Too many people, especially women, focus on cardio training (like the treadmill or elliptical), spinning classes, dance cardio, etc. which do burn calories but they do not help to effectively build lean muscle mass or shape the body compared to strength training. Also, there appears to be a minimum threshold of resistance that is required to help stimulate the muscle building process which is around 35-40% of your maximum effort. So, if you are using a 3-5 lb [1.3-2.2 kg] dumbbell for most of your exercises and you could easily use a 10-15+ lb [4.5-6.8+ kg], you are seriously shortchanging yourself.
I want to strengthen and tone, but not gain big muscles. What is the best exercise for this?
Joe: There is no such thing as a best exercise. There is only appropriate or inappropriate exercises based on the person’s individual needs and/or current capabilities. The best exercise(s) are the ones that best meet your current needs and capabilities; help improve a positional weakness or path of motion and provides an effective stimulus to the body to illicit a positive adaptive response.
As for getting big muscles or bulking up, if you are in a caloric deficit you will greatly minimise the possibility of gaining muscle size while actually improving your ability to lose body fat. The reason why is strength training helps maintain/preserve lean muscle mass while in a caloric deficit. This is actually the ideal scenario for changing your body composition.
How much exercise should we be doing to maintain our health as we age?
Joe: I think 2-3 days per week of moderate or moderate to high intensity exercise is sufficient providing that those sessions include total body strength training and you are pretty active most of the other days of the week. In other words, if you are at a desk job and are pretty inactive outside the workplace then you will need to work out more.
If your work environment has you pretty active to very active than you can get away with just 2-3 times per week of exercise (as outlined above). If you’d like more information about strength training, check out my An Introduction to Strength Training article.
I haven’t exercised for years and lack all motivation to start. What are some good tips to get me off the couch and into a regular routine?
Joe: The best way to overcome this situation is to start back slowly. There is a saying, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” You cannot expect to go from a completely sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits to working out 5-6 days a week and eating Paleo. It’s unrealistic.
The best thing to do is ensure that you manage your expectations and take small steps toward implementing change. You want to be able to achieve small wins each week. Start by just going for a 10-20 minute walk 2-3 days per week. If you have a friend or significant other than perhaps do it together.
Schedule your workout into your calendar and set an alarm to go off 15-20 minutes before you are supposed to exercise. This way you can wind down whatever you are doing and prepare to go work out.
Finally, having a plan and maybe even an accountability partner are two of the best strategies that you can employ.
- For more information on Joe Dowdell and his range of online programs for all fitness levels click here.