Exercises for boomers (and why they’re so important)


A year and a half ago, Elliott Haimoff could barely walk down the street without losing his breath. He weighed 285 pounds and, as a busy documentary filmmaker whose job involves lots of travel and sedentary editing work, he rarely took time to exercise or to think about the food he ate.

“I was just so out of control and my eating habits were poor and I wasn’t exercising regularly,” said Haimoff, 60, who lives in Beverly Hills and attends Congregation Mogen David, a Modern Orthodox congregation on West Pico Boulevard. “I just got to a point where enough was enough. … I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to make my last stand.’ ”

So Haimoff began working with a personal trainer, Betsy Mendel, who advised him on ways to improve his diet and started him on an exercise routine. He cut out fried foods, wheat and processed sugar (no more fried chicken, pasta or dessert). He also began working out about three times a week, combining cardiovascular activity — walking or hiking — and weight-bearing exercises using resistance bands and kettle bells. 

Today, Haimoff is 90 pounds lighter and feels several decades younger, too. Instead of just walking to the end of the street, he now enjoys hiking for several miles through the Santa Monica Mountains.

“I feel like I’m 30 again, I just have all this energy, I’m raring to go,” he said. “It’s just made a tremendous difference in my life. I feel like a different person. I definitely think I’ve put some time back on the clock.”

Elliott Haimoff, 60, has lost 90 pounds since changing his diet and starting on an exercise routine. Photo courtesy of Elliott Haimoff

Eating well and exercising are important at all stages of life. But for people 50 and older, diet and exercise become less about looking good and more about staying healthy and improving quality of life, according to Mendel, a Santa Monica personal trainer and author of “Move a Muscle, Change a Mood: The Transformative Power of Exercising, Eating Healthy & Thinking Positive.” 

Mendel, who attends Shabbat services at Nashuva, a Jewish spiritual community based in Brentwood, said exercise after 50 can help counteract some of the negative aspects of aging, such as decreased strength, reduced flexibility, balance problems and poor posture. Exercise also reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and it increases your chances of living longer. Boomers shouldn’t expect to do the same intensity of exercise as they did in their 20s and 30s, but they can still make dramatic improvements to their health, Mendel said. 

“The endorphins alone — the feeling you get when you work out — you sleep better, eat healthier, are less stressed,” she said. “The goal of exercise after 50 is health and well-being; it’s not physical prowess.”

To get the most from your fitness routine, Mendel recommends incorporating exercises that target five areas: cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, balance and core strength. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime, she said, but here are some basic tips to get you started.

Cardiovascular health

Get moving. Cardiovascular exercise can be anything that gets your heart pumping: bicycling, hiking, walking briskly, swimming. Running is not recommended unless you’ve been a runner all of your life, Mendel said. Cardiovascular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, lifts your mood and can help with weight loss.

Mendel recommends 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, but if you can manage only two days a week, begin with that. “Anything is better than nothing,” she said. 

Strength 

You don’t need fancy equipment or a plush gym membership to work out your muscles. Strength training exercises can be performed using simple items available in sports or department stores, such as dumbbells and resistance bands. You also can use your own body weight. 

Strength training after 50 isn’t about gaining big muscles. Instead, it’s about building muscle mass and strengthening your muscles so that you can continue to do the things you do every day like climbing stairs, carrying groceries and picking up your grandchildren. Building muscle also helps improve posture and increase metabolism, which slows as you age, Mendel said.

She recommends strength training three days a week for at least 30 minutes. Exercises should target both the upper and lower body. For the upper body, she recommends bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises, rowing and pushups. Pushups can be done against a wall if you have trouble doing them on the floor.

For the lower body, Mendel recommends squats and lunges. If you use weights, she recommends women start with 3- to 5-pound weights, and men with 5 to 10 pounds.

Guidelines for all of these exercises can be found online, in many exercise books or by consulting a personal trainer.

Flexibility 

Call it flexibility training or stretching. Like strength training, stretching will help with regular daily activities, such as getting in and out of a car or bending down to pick something off the floor.

“If you haven’t been exercising, you definitely get stiffer as you get older,” Mendel said. “Better flexibility reduces the risk of back pain and muscle pulls. … It just makes you feel more limber.”

A good stretching routine could include arm circles, neck rolls, touching your toes (you can do this while sitting on the floor), calf raises against the wall, hamstring and quad stretches, and side stretches. Mendel recommends stretching for five to 10 minutes every day.

Balance 

Improving balance is key to preventing one of the biggest problems people face as they age: falling. Our sense of balance decreases as we get older. In fact, more than a third of adults ages 65 and older fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Balance exercises can help prevent this problem.

Mendel recommends spending about two to three minutes each day working on balance. This could be standing on one leg while holding onto the wall and then letting go of the wall. Or you could stand on your tiptoes and hold for a few seconds. Yoga poses such as the tree pose also are good for balance, Mendel said. 

Core strength

Working your core means strengthening your abdominal and back muscles and the muscles around your pelvis. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many daily physical activities such as lifting. It also can prevent back pain and help with balance.

Core exercises recommended by Mendel include: crunches, reverse crunches, planks and bicycle exercises on the floor in which you touch your elbows to your knees in a cycling motion. Consult a trainer or exercise book for more guidance on how to do these exercises.

Mendel suggests incorporating core exercise into your workout regime five to seven days a week. Most importantly, whatever exercise you choose, make sure you do it and stay consistent, Mendel concluded. 

“Basically, my philosophy for fitness is really simple: It’s get up and get out and get moving. Anything is better than nothing,” she said.

“Get off your butt.”

Shopping for back to shul


It can be an exhausting process. And it can sometimes be exhilarating. Because of the hundreds of possibilities among Los Angeles’ shuls, success in finding the perfect one for you and your family too often seems just one more visit away.

Whether you are new to organized Jewish life, have kids, are pinching your pennies or just want a spiritual home base, there are four questions that are best answered before you begin your shul shopping.

First and foremost is your denomination, whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or other special non- or trans-denomination. Then there is the question of community: Are you becoming a member of a congregation because of the religious aspect of Judaism, to find friends or both? Most congregations offer a mix of social and sacred activities, but it’s worth asking yourself where your priorities lie.

Now for question No. 2: What specific features must your synagogue have?

If your main priority is a high-quality religious education program for your children, this city is packed with terrific congregation-affiliated day schools, preschools and religious schools. However, a well-regarded school can provide other challenges for small synagogues. For example, Temple Isaiah has struggled for years to retain families who join for the shul’s renowned preschool but split for larger congregations with more to offer post-graduation.

These days, joining congregations with affiliated day schools has become more popular than ever among parents seeking religious education for their children, and, in turn, membership has become necessary for securing a space on the school’s enrollment list. For example, enrollment at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy or Temple Israel of Hollywood’s day school is only available to the shul’s members.

Here’s a tip: Becoming a member at a synagogue can sometimes lead to some cost cuts when it comes to the education of your kids. Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s nursery and elementary schools are open to the Jewish community at large, but substantial tuition discounts (not to mention higher positions on the waiting list totem pole) are given to member families because the congregation subsidizes the schools.

For those seeking a religious supplement to the secular education of their children, religious school on afternoons or weekends is key. However, in most cases, the right to send your children to these schools is only given to congregants.

Parents or professionals with full agendas might want to find a synagogue with a flexible schedule of religious services. Congregations have progressively become more willing to compromise when it comes to scheduling in order to attract a wider range of members. Beth Jacob in Pico-Robertson (one of Los Angeles’ largest Orthodox congregations) offers three Shacharit minyamim every morning. Other synagogues have experimented with shorter services and earlier Friday night services for families who want to eat Shabbat dinner together.

If you have never belonged to a congregation before, take a look at the shul’s adult education program. Numerous synagogues offer courses introducing new members to Jewish life.

For widows, widowers or divorcees, a synagogue with singles mixers or a mourner’s club may be the place for you to meet new people.

The singles scene has become an active part of congregational life in Los Angeles. Events like Friday Night Live (on the second Friday of every month) at Sinai Temple cater to the 25 to 40 crowd and have become popular for matchmaking and phone number-swapping.

But beyond all this, connecting with a synagogue’s rabbis is often the most important part of a shul search. If you don’t like the rabbis, it won’t be much fun sitting through their High Holy Days sermons every year. Most will be more than happy to take the time to talk with you as you visit their congregation. Let them know your interests and what appeals to you – or doesn’t – about their offerings. How they address your concerns could give you as much information as what they have to say.

Another important intangible is the lay leadership. Temple presidents and boards decide what occurs on a daily basis at the shul, so it can be useful to speak to at least one board member to get a sense of the ruling body’s future plans. In addition, talking to the synagogue’s executive director and event coordinator can give you some insight on what it means to be a part of a congregation. Be careful, though, and take whatever they have to say with a grain of salt – after all, it is their job to convince you to join their shul.

If community outreach is important to you, look for a shul with an abundance of “social action” activities. For the politically minded, find a congregation that has a “social justice” program, a feature that is rising in popularity among congregations throughout the city.

On to question No. 3: How big do you want the congregation to be? Houses of worship like Stephen S. Wise Temple (the largest congregation in the United States) offer countless ways to explore every aspect of Jewish life, including major lecture series and events, but some people prefer smaller congregations. When you make your decision, don’t forget to keep your children in mind. Shared b’nai mitzvahs and large class sizes are staples of shuls like Wilshire Boulevard Temple. At the same time, kids can connect with a wide variety of friends in larger congregation.

Finally, question No. 4: How much are you willing to pay in membership dues? Most shuls have price tags of at least $1,500 for a yearly family membership, but, if money is tight for your family, some dues subsidy may be offered. Do not be shy. The vast majority of synagogues don’t turn away members because they cannot afford the annual fee. You need to sit down with the rabbi or executive director of the shul and tell them about your financial quandary. And for the devout, joining a Chabad might be the way to go, since membership is completely free of charge.

Don’t forget that what is most important when looking for a congregation is to find an environment that provides comfort, community and challenges. Make sure that you take time and are thoughtful on your shul shopping expedition. This is one purchase that is not easily returned.

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