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How to stop feeling "puny".....

PUNY: adjective: small; weak; ineffective

An odd kind of word, although one we might be able to relate to if our training has dropped, we are going through the menopause or are just getting older. And so how to we combat feeling “old” help our bodies to stop feeling frail?

“Frailty” in terms of fitness can relate to weaknesses, ill health, feeling feeble, being ill, or just – puniness (never knew this was an actual term!) – all in which affects how we perceive ourselves and our ability to manage our everyday life. Linked to increased vulnerability (physical and mental), there is an index which can count our health discrepancies and connect this to our life expectancy or likelihood of being at risk of disease etc. Whether you express this in terms of how you feel, or think about your body, understanding the risks of not doing anything to help prevent feeling “puny” is an important motivator to change lifestyle, take up some exercise and make some changes to our daily diet.

In preparation for the new Café, based on “Strength & Flexibility”, I have been reading a paper on “The benefits of strength training for older adults” (R. Seguin., M. Nelson., 2003)[1] and looking at how strength training have the ability to combat weakness and fragility, and its debilitating consequences.

We have all heard of “osteoporosis” where we lose bone mass as we age, and how exercise and diet can positively influence this decline, we tend to hear less about “sarcopenia” or the loss of muscle mass that also impacts on our health. Whilst we may moan about the “bingo wings” this noticeable loss of muscle mass is the start of the decline in the muscle tissue that in later life prevents us from being able to push ourselves out of a chair or get up off the floor easily and more worryingly, is accelerated by chronic diseases. Much better that we start to think about these things before they become problematic – and the best news is, that it is never too late to start.

Strength training has the ability to reduce the risk of sarcopenia and osteoporosis[2], as well as decrease the risks associated with coronary heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and improves sleep, metabolism, balance (reducing falls) and diminish anxiety and depression[3]. Translated for real life, this means that you will be able to better protect your health in the long term – and whilst these are honourable ideals, it is sometimes difficult to be motivated for results that might take over a year to see the difference in – on the other hand, there are some quick gains which will be far more noticeable and make your puny body feel young again.

The speed at which we walk at tends to get slower as we get older (due to the aging process and sarcopenia) - many people find this frustrating as we remember how we used to be able to walk for miles without feeling tired, or that we could pop on the trainers and run 3 miles without a care. Improvements in both gait, speed, and endurance[4] can be see when following a group exercise conditioning session for 12 weeks. This is great news for all of us, because if we can see changes in a short space of time, by doing exercises that any of us can do at home, then it ticks the boxes of being doable, achievable, and motivational.

I love the idea that group exercise can be of value, as it has the ability to keep us accountable, and makes the social gathering aspect of exercise be more fun. The advantages are many. In our current climate, cost is also a consideration and group exercise is a great way to gain professional instruction compared to one-to-one Personal Training – and training can happen at the price of a coffee. There is compelling evidence to support the benefits of group exercise, in particular for increased bone and joint health, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, your dynamic balance, self-confidence and self-esteem – and all this can be yours. Just find time. 20 minutes, 3 times a week would work.

The added benefits are to your emotional wellbeing and vitality for life. When you start to pay attention to yourself, start to care about your body, you gain a positivity that offers protective measures against adverse health outcomes and reduces your mortality. You don’t need to get this in a bottle of pills. You just need to think about a structured exercise programme that you can easily follow - and one that makes you happy. The “Happy Café Hapus” came from a period of introspection in my own life where I questioned what I wanted – and I wanted to be “happy”. Some may laugh (no pun intended!) but being “happy” is linked to longevity in life, reduced mental illness and disease. The brain and body work together to produce hormones and biochemicals that enhance our drive and vivacity.

“Mastery” is term used by exercise physiologists to describe the feeling attached to being able to do an exercise well – one that gives you satisfaction. There are physical reasons why we can do an exercise well, but the psychological aspect of “nailing it” gives us an emotional vitality and a protective measure against physical decline. Strength training is an important part of gaining the ability to do an exercise well, as the targeted muscles will support the joint and ligaments, improve the kinetic motion between each joint in the body, gives you control and command of the movement and overall confidence to complete the action in the best possible way.

Age has been shown to be no barrier to when you start training. Many of the papers I looked at examined the “elderly” population – men and women over the age of 75 – many already in care homes where additional help is needed to support active living. This example, on the far end of where we might perceive “fit people” to be at give me great confidence that our bodies and minds are capable of change – both in our mental attitude and physical ability.

Confidence to complete the exercises is one barrier that can be overcome if you work out with a trained professional as they can show you how to perform the exercise – and, how hard you need to exercise for. I see so many people being fed up with their fitness levels and then trying something so challenging that it makes them sore, diminishes their confidence and undermines the “value” of what they are trying to do. Time, not only on your feet, but realistic time frames to see a difference is significant to success. I totally get the need to see results “now” – tempering that reality will allow you to enjoy the journey of your fitness as much as the final outcome – if there ever is such a thing in fitness. Keep at it. Don’t give up. If you fall off the habit, find a way to get back. Feel good about investing in your short term and long-term health. Feel better after one session, feel magnificent after 30 sessions, and change your life after 100 sessions. You can do this. You can see the evidence to back this up. Believe the science. Trust your body. Put “Puny” in the corner and have a dance with vitality.



[1] Seguin, R., Nelson, M., (2003) – The Benefits of Strength Training for Older Adults – American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Vol 25. Issue 3. Page 141-149 [2] Nelson, M., Fiatarone, M., Morganti, C., (1994) – Effects of High-Intensity Strength Training on Multiple Risk Factors for Osteoporotic Fractures – Journal of American Medical Association. AMA. 1994;272(24):1909-1914. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520240037038 [3] Roubenoff, R., Hughes, V., (2000) – Sarcopenia: Current Concepts – The Journal of Gerontology. Vol. 55, Issue 12, Pages M716-M724 [4] Rubenstein, L., Josephson, K., Trueblood, P., Loy, S., Harker, J., PietruskaF., Robbins, A. (2000) - Effects of a Group Exercise Program on Strength, Mobility, and Falls Among Fall-Prone Elderly Men. The Journal of Gerontology. Vol.55, Issue 6

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