Newsletter Volume 1, Number 4

December 22, 2005

From my Diary

  • Strength Training and Abs: I do my workouts on an 8-week cycle, based on Bryan Haycock's HST program, (Hypertrophic Specific Training). Recently, I have increased training abdominal muscles from 3 times to 6 times per week.

    The HST approach is specifically designed to build muscle, or in the case of people over 25, to regain muscle lost through inactivity. By age 60, through a process known as "sarcopenia", inactive people will have lost one-third (35%) of the muscle they had at age 25. By age 70, they will lose another 20%. This age-related change in muscle resembles the disease known as muscular dystrophy. By age 80, 75% of muscle has been converted to inelastic connective tissue or burned as fuel. In older adults—women as well as men—the purpose of a strength-training program is not to match Arnold Schwarzenegger, but to slow down the process of sarcopenia, and even regain lost muscle. Strength training aims to protect and recover lost skeletal muscle; aerobic training to protect and recover lost heart muscle.

    HST is a training system that runs in cycles of varying length, usually 8 weeks, with 2-week mini-cycles as follows: 2 weeks light weights at 15 repetitions per exercise; 2 week medium weights at 10 repetitions per exercise; and 2 weeks heavy weights at 5 repetitions per exercise. The last two weeks are flexible: sometimes a repeat of weeks 5 and 6. A deconditioning period of one week (9 days including the weekend) follows the training cycle. Although, Bryan Haycock uses nine days deconditioning at the end of each cycle, I have modified this to two weeks (16 days including the weekends) in accordance with the text of one of his articles.

    Deconditioning at the end of each six-week period of strength training is not for recovery. Deconditioning is to allow smaller weights to be used in the next cycle. Two weeks is enough to reduce muscle strength, so that the smaller weights at the beginning of the next cycle still have an impact on muscle development. These smaller weights reduce the risk of injuring joints (ligaments, tendons and cartilage). From the start of each cycle the weights increase progressively and then drop back again at the beginning of the next cycle in a zig-zag pattern. During the two-week break for deconditioning, I still do abdominal exercises.

    Does this approach work? HST works if you start correctly. I knew that Bryan developed HST for trainees with many years experience in strength-training. So I decided that I should prepare my joints before I started. In November 2004, I began a program of three months pre-training consisting of daily pilates (pee-law-tays) for flexibility and light strength training with an exercise ball. I also started working out three days per week with 5-pound (2 kg) weights. Looking back, I can hardly believe that I had become so weak that I could manage only about 15 minutes of exercise with those light weights.

    By the end of three months, I had worked up to eight exercises, one set for each of 15 repetitions using ten-pound dumbbells. After three months of light strength training three days per week, I decided that I had strengthened my joints (tendons, ligaments and cartilage) enough to graduate from novice to beginner.

    In February 2005, I started Bryan's HST program. Now in the eleventh month of the HST program, the weights I am using at the beginning of each cycle are double what they were when I started, 20-pound dumbbells instead of 10-pound dumbbells. The weight lifted has increased on average, 1.5% per week. At the end of the last cycle, I was using 35-pound dumbbells—one in each hand for 5 repetitions. Each day of lifting increases strength by only one-half of one per cent, but the increase is compounded.

    This is the second week of the 15's (15 repetitions). Next week, I increase the weights by 20% and do 10 repetitions per exercise. The 10's (10 repetitions) are known to increase muscle mass. More about that next week.

  • Abdominal Exercises: I have increased the abs exercises from 3 days per week to six days per week: crunches, increased from one set of 30 repetitions to one set of 50; knee raises in the Captain's Chair, one set of 30 to two sets of 25; reverse situps (30 degrees), two sets of 15 to two sets of 25; 45-degree back extensions in the Roman Chair, one set of 30, no increase. After two weeks, the effect on my abs is already visible. The key with abs seems to be: increase the volume.

  • Aerobic Exercises: I warm up with 10 or 15 minutes on a treadmill set to a slope of 10 degrees at 3 mph (5 km/hour) and finish with 30 minutes at 4 mph (7 km/hour) on the ski machine (elliptical cross-trainer). Most days, my wife and I walk for an hour in the park. I never jog or run.

Tips of the Week

  • Vaccines December is not too late for influenza and pneumonia vaccines. In the last 15 years, pneumonia hospitalization rates have increased by 20% for US adults 65 to 84 years of age, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association for December 7. Hospitalization of older adults with influenza and pneumonia was less in districts where schoolchildren received flu vaccines. To protect yourself or your elderly parents consider flu and pneumonia vaccines for yourself and your parents, children or grandchildren. Flu vaccine needs to be boosted every year for people over 60; pneumonia vaccine every 3 to 5 years. While the immune systems of older adults may be unable to build enough anti-bodies to prevent infection, the evidence indicates that vaccines do improve the survival rate of those who do develop pneumonia.

  • The Myth of Loose Skin: Ron Brown says that it's a myth about loose skin: that surgery is the only way to get rid of skin folds after losing weight. One of his readers asked a plastic surgeon, who said that while the surgeon does "tummy tucks", he always tells patients to lose more weight before even considering such a procedure. My own experience going from about 40% body fat to about 20% body fat is that, if I lose weight slowly, the sagging folds do seem to diminish with further weight reduction. I believe that Ron is right. For most people (maybe 95%) loose skin resolves itself without the need for surgery.

  • To Control Afternoon Snacking Chew Gum: Last week, I mentioned chewing gum as a way to avoid snacking. I bought five packets of Wrigley's Extra Spearmint sugar-free chewing gum (5 calories a stick) and have been chewing for a week. Oh, have I been chewing! My jaws ached the second day. By the third day, I thought my teeth would all fall out. But I persevered in the interest of science. I think the gum helped me avoid unscheduled snacking. We started Christmas early this year because our neighbor's daughter, son, and grandchildren came to visit and my wife prepared a little Christmas party. There was a lot of food lying about all day Monday and lots of leftovers on Tuesday. I treated myself to a half-bottle of wine, some wonderful fish curry, lots of nuts, two helpings of Christmas pudding and a thin slice of chocolate cake. I exercised two hours per day as usual and chewed my gum like mad. Wednesday morning, I found that I had lost one more pound of fat. That's why I think chewing gum works. Will buy some more tomorrow to see if this magic works over the Christmas and New Year period.


  • Edward Abramson, Ph.D., Psychologist: Doctor Ed says "...dieting doesn't address these issues [related to the psychology of eating], and may actually increase negative emotions, it isn't likely to produce permanent weight loss, and may result in weight gain...." Medscape article, print version. Dr Ed is a licensed clinical psychologist, a professor, and an internationally recognized expert on obesity, dieting, and eating disorders. Dr Ed's books are full of wisdom as well as up-to-date science. I asked Dr Ed if he would agree to appear as a role model on my site. This is what he replied, "Although it's hard to think of myself as a role model, I am over 60 (61 to be exact). I usually practice what I preach (e.g, I go to the gym 2-3 times/week, start dinner with a salad etc.), although not perfectly. But, I always think perfection isn't necessary as long as you're persistent."

    Wisdom in a nutshell: perfection isn't necessary as long as you are persistent. Just convince yourself never to give up.

    Dr Ed has an approach to snacking that may interest you, "...if I buy ice cream, I'll get low-calorie fudgesicles and just eat one, after dinner. I won't keep cookies in the house. If I really want one, I'll get a fresh baked cookie from the bakery. When I'm hungry between meals I'll have a snack like an apple, a slice of cheese, a rice cake with peanut butter etc., but I won't eat the sweet stuff when I need a snack to satisfy my hunger."

    On eating out, Dr Ed says, "When we go out to eat, we'll frequently split the entree and order a second salad." Dr Ed provided some background information that gives some insight to his motivations in wanting to help others deal with eating problems. The quotes above are repeated below.
    "I'm 61, 5 ft 11 inches and weigh between 175-179 lbs, which puts my BMI in the upper end of the normal range. I may have a genetic predisposition to obesity as both my mother and brother were significantly overweight when they died. The history of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in my family is a strong motivation for me to watch my weight. Although my father was not overweight, and was physically active until his passing at age 93, he always had a 'pot belly'. I too, have more abdominal fat than I would like, but I recognize that I have control over how much body fat I have, but I have no control over where it will accumulate. Once, after an illness I lost weight so that people told me I looked too thin, but I still had a rounded abdomen. While I routinely do crunches at the gym, I can accept that I will never have a 'six pack'".

    "As a child I wore 'husky' clothes but was reasonably active. I remember weighing 159 lbs during my sophomore [second] year in college but as a young adult, I was sedentary and indulged my love of ice cream so that, by the time I was 30, I weighed 185 lbs. Although I had a professional interest in obesity research and had published several professional articles, I wasn't concerned about my own weight until I had the opportunity to develop an eating and weight disorders program at a local hospital. The hospital had an affiliated gym so our weight control program included three weekly 'Aerobics for Beginners' classes. I had to practice what I was preaching, so at age 40, with some reluctance, I started going to the gym. Although there are still days when I don't feel like it, 20 years later, I can't imagine not going. I go twice a week and lift weights for about 40 minutes and work-up a sweat on the treadmill for 40 minutes. I have a few tricks to increase my motivation. I ride my motorcycle to the gym, I listen to "All Things Considered" while lifting weights, and when my favorite magazine (currently The New Yorker) comes I immediately put it in my gym bag so that I can only read it while I'm on the treadmill. In addition to my workouts, I walk whenever possible. For example, I'll walk to lunch and back (about 3/4 mile) when I'm at my Lafayette office, or walk around the house while I'm making phone calls."

    "As anyone who has read [my book] Body Intelligence knows, I think dieting is counterproductive. I don't diet because I know that as soon as any food is forbidden, I won't be satisfied until I've had some. I also know that I like ice cream and some pastries and I'm not willing to completely forgo these pleasures. Instead, I plan for my treats. For example, if I buy ice cream, I'll get low-calorie fudgesicles and just eat one, after dinner. I won't keep cookies in the house. If I really want one, I'll get a fresh baked cookie from the bakery. When I'm hungry between meals I'll have a snack like an apple, a slice of cheese, a rice cake with peanut butter etc., but I won't eat the sweet stuff when I need a snack to satisfy my hunger. My wife makes wonderful salads, so it's not a sacrifice to fill-up on low density foods before getting to the main course. When we go out to eat, we'll frequently split the entree and order a second salad. I weigh myself every morning. When I find I'm getting to the higher end of my range, I'll forgo the dessert, or cut back on my eating so that I don't go over my self-imposed limit."

    [Quoted from an email with permission. I inserted the words in brackets for clarity.]
  • My Approach to Dieting agrees with what Dr Ed advocates. Weight-loss and dieting.

Coming Soon

  • I am working on a special report concerning the successful use of gene therapy for heart disease based on the famous "Milano gene". This therapy may someday displace major heart surgery and even procedures like stenting.
Fred Colbourne It's never too late!
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