I’m a gym convert

I’ve never been into playing sport or jogging.

I love watching tennis or the olympics but I never had the co-ordination or perseverance to actually be good at anything sport-wise. I did pilates reformer for few years and loved it, however I don’t count this as a real gym. I thought gyms were just for men, lifting heavy weights and showing off their muscles.

Around 4 years ago, I had a bit of health setback. Early breast cancer, which I consider myself lucky to have had diagnosed through mammogram screening, no lump or anything palpable. I had the surgery and radiation treatment and then aromatase inhibitor medication for 5 years.

I have a family history of osteoporosis and my medication decreased by my bone density – so I had to look at ways to strengthen my bones.

There’s a gym here in Sydney that only works with people who have had cancer. Unfortunate entry criteria, I know, however I checked it out, everyone there was really professional and we worked out some fitness goals that would suit me. Research has shown that exercise as part of cancer care is really beneficial And may help with adverse effects of cancer treatment (I’ve added a link to the reference at the end of page)

Increasing my bone density would be one and the other – let me see – I know how about a chin-up? Seemed like a good idea!

The gym was really well equiped, well trained health physioligists, fantastic machines and I lost my fear of the gym.

Took me a year, but at the age of 62, I did my first unassisted chin-up.

My first unassisted chin-up – so proud of myself

I became obsessed with doing chin-ups. Every time we walked past a children’s play group I looked to see if there was a suitable bar. Here in Australia, the local councils have been removing all the equipment like monkey bars which means its difficult to find a suitable bar at a height I can reach.

I’m no longer going to the cancer gym. My husband retired and I decided that we should go to the gym together.

I didn’t fancy going to a regular gym – too many fit young people.

In New South Wales (NSW) we have Police Citizens Youth Clubs (PCYC). These clubs were set up to empower young people to reach their potential via fitness and personal growth programs, with the ultimate aim to reduce crime.

Our local PCYC has a well-equiped gym and lucky for us anyone in the community is allowed to join. The membership cost is pretty reasonable and there is a wide range of people who work-out at the gym. There are personal trainers onsite (for a fee) if classes or extra help with training is needed.

I’m still doing my chin-ups and my husband is following my lead. He can do 10 chin-ups now and we are motivating each other.

I’m going to the gym at least 3 times a week now and I love going to the gym.

My next goal – I’d like to be able to do a handstand.

I encourage all women – young and old – to find a gym that is not too intimidating and set yourselves fitness goals – you will be amazed at what you can achieve.

Do you have a fitness story to share – I’d love to hear from you.

Chin-ups at the PCYC gym

Links and references

Police Citizens Youth Clubs – https://www.pcycnsw.org.au

Position Statement regarding Exercise in Cancer Care – https://www.cosa.org.au/media/332488/cosa-position-statement-v4-web-final.pdf



Get a grip

When was the last time you thought about how strong your hands were? Probably when you had to get someone else in your household to help open that pesky jar lid (of course they only opened it because you loosened it first!).

I was blown away by a scene in the latest “Tomb Raider” movie. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) was hanging from a wrecked airplane, gripping the fuselage as she dangled over a precipice. She appeared to hold her own body weight with ease. Intrigued by her incredible grip strength, I wondered how did she get so strong? After looking into her training preparation for the movie, she was fortunate to have a personal trainer who worked with her to improve her endurance, strength and fitness.

It got me thinking about how most of us would have fared in a similar situation. Its unlikely that will need to save ourselves from falling into a deep precipice, however the ability to hold our own body weight for a period of time is a worthwhile goal. I don’t suggest that we need need to work out like Alicia Vikander, however we need a good grip strength to allow us continue to enjoy our daily activities. For example, to grip a car steering wheel, open jars, work in the garden, play sports like tennis or golf or carry a heavy shopping bag.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

As children, we dangled from playground equipment like monkey bars and didn’t think twice. Over time as we get older, we lose this ability and our innate strength, which is unfortunate. Most adults don’t use playground equipment, however its a great way to build grip strength.

Next time you are at the park see theres a monkey or chin-ups bar and see how strong your grip strength is. Can you hold your body weight while feet are off the floor?

Why is grip strength important as we get older?

Research demonstrates a downside of reduced grip strength on part of our overall health indicators ( see the end of this piece for the reference links).

We all lose muscle mass and strength from around the age of 50, this is known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia may increase the risk of falls, disability and overall fragility. The loss of muscle mass/strength (both men and women) is due to a combination of factors, including (1):

  • a reduction in activity and exercise;
  • obesity (fat replaces muscle);
  • changes within the structure of our muscles;
  • hormonal changes;
  • inadequate protein intake;
  • increased systemic inflammatory processes.

While we can’t help getting older, we do have control over our fitness (strength and flexibility) and our diet.

The results of a clinical trial involving elderly frail nursing home residents, showed progressive resistance training, in combination with multi-nutrient supplementation, improved muscle mass and decreased fragility within the active participant group (diet alone had no benefit) (2).

Grip strength is a good indicator of muscle strength and a window into overall health status. Low grip strength may indicate individuals have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke (3).

What can I do to increase my grip strength?

When we think of exercise, exercising hands and wrists is not usually at the top of the list.

There are ways to increase grip strength at home. Note: if there are any problems with arms, hands or wrists it might be worthwhile checking with health care professionals before starting.

  • Have a look at the recommendations in “Give grip strength a hand” (3) for exercises for your hands and grip strength.
  • Fill a bucket with a small amount of water and lift it up towards knees. Most buckets will hold 9 litres, so that’s 9 kilograms if filled to top measure line. Start low and add water as you build strength.
  • Use a tennis ball or other soft ball and slowly squeeze the ball. Repeat 10 times and swap to the other hand. Increase repetitions as strength increases.
  • Buy a hand grip device from the local gym shop. Try out the range of resistance before buying, its better to buy lower resistance ones and increase the repetitions as strength increases.
  • Hand weights or dumbbells – bicep curls or tricep curls or while standing with weight in each hand lift from knee to hip.

References

(1) Walston, JD 2012, Sarcopenia in older adults, Curr Opin Rheumatol, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066461/&gt;.

(2) Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people 2016, Harvard Medical School, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8190152&gt;.

(3) Give grip strength a hand 2016, Harvard Health Publishing, <https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/give-grip-strength-a-hand&gt;.

(4) Musalek, C & Kirchengast, S 2017, Grip strength as an indicator of health-related quality of life in old age – A pilot study, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,<https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/12/1447/pdf >.

Other links to articles and papers

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/why-a-weak-handshake-is-bad-news-for-your-heart-20150514-gh18xa.html

The PURE study – “Testing hand-grip strength could be a simple, low-cost way to predict heart attack and stroke risk”, <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150513210142.htm&gt;