⭑ Here's how to calculate your body age ✔ it's worth knowing
⭑ Some tricks to help your memory ✔ I use these now
⭑ Why perceived effort beats heart rate zones ✔ Here's how to apply them
⭑ The surprising hidden benefits of kettlebell swings ✔ Helps avoid injuries
Apparently, wasabi has been found to boost cognitive ability in older people.
I've only seen the headline. I'll check it out as it may be part of the story of why the Japanese have such long lifespans.
It's frustrating to get to the supermarket and not quite remember the one most important thing you came for. Try these memory techniques, I've found they work - see item #2.
Know your body age? It's very useful to know because it is the ultimate quantitative measure of the effectiveness of your exercise program. In other words, it is the ultimate measure of whether your efforts are productive. Here's how you can find yours - see Item #1.
01 How to Calculate Your Body Age, By The Numbers
I believe, at our age, we should always train with the goal of lowering our body age.
This is also a commendable goal of Zone 2 training. As I mentioned last week, although Zone 2 minimises stress on our immune system and supports longevity, it has limitations in lowering our body age.
For one thing, sustained exercise at the lactate threshold - between Zone 3 and 4 - stimulates important longevity hormones such as Human Growth Hormone (hGH).
Another issue is that "Zone 2", when generalised to a population, can significantly underestimate 60-70%VO2max of an individual. Translated, this means that once you are consistent with "Zone 2", you are most likely exercising metabolically in mid-Zone 1 when your Apple watch says you are in Zone 2.
However, you can use the combination of your indicated heart rate zone and your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to (1) calculate your body age and (2) adjust your heart zone ranges to more accurately reflect your individual fitness level.
⇒ By doing this, you can maximise your benefits from zone-based training.
What this means for you: The essence is to estimate your level of exertion in Zones 2 and 3.
For example, I ran 10km at (Apple Health) Zone 5 this morning. See the screenshot below. Is that dangerous? Yes. Is it actually possible? No.
Zone 5's energy reserves expire after 20 to 30 seconds. Zone 4's after 2 minutes.
My Apple watch calculated my zones based on my age, weight and sex.
- Going by my perceived rate of exertion, I ran at the higher end of Zone 3 - let's say 133 bpm - at the lactate threshold.
- My average heart rate was 153 bpm.
- To normalise the heart rate zones to my fitness, I need to add (153 - 133) = 20 to every setting.
- To calculate my body age, I subtract 20 from my chronological age, 75 - 20 = 55.
⇒ This is a quantitative method of calibrating your heart zones to your fitness level, and of finding your body age.
Qualitatively, you can use the fantastic body age calculator from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology here.
See my Cheatsheet for determining your Rate of Perceived Exertion in Item #3 below.
02 Unlocking the Power of Your Memory
I've never been good at remembering faces, so I was amazed when I went to Bali and learned that the Balinese are renowned among Indonesians for remembering faces from years before.
These days it's not just faces. I'll go to the supermarket and return with everything except what I went for!
This is where mnemonics can help. I'm giving them a go as an AIDE-MÉMOIRE. You might find them helpful as well.
Mnemonic techniques use various cues and strategies to reinforce memories. By leveraging images, acronyms, rhymes, and easy-to-recall phrases, we can use mnemonics to tap into the power of visualisation and association to solidify memories.
I'm trying some of these, and they do help - especially "look, snap, connect".
What does this mean for you? One popular technique is called "look, snap, connect." This approach combines visualisation, word association, and storytelling to help remember details more vividly:
"Look" serves as a reminder to direct your attention, "snap" serves as a reminder to mentally capture a snapshot because our brains are wired to remember things visually, and "connect" is a method of linking these mental snapshots together to give them meaning. When something is meaningful, it becomes memorable.
For instance, you have two errands to complete: (1) buy eggs and (2) visit the post office. Using the "look snap connect" idea, you could imagine an image of an egg with a stamp.
When you put your keys down, capture a snapshot of where, and connect something at the location with your keys in an image in your mind.
Chunking is a technique that breaks information into smaller, manageable chunks. By grouping related information together, it becomes easier to remember. Phone numbers, for instance, are often chunked into sets of three or four digits for easier recall, which simply means you remember 806 instead of 8 and 0 and 6.
The chunking technique is interesting because it "extends" our short-term memory. Short-term memory can only hold 5-9 information items simultaneously. But each item can store up to four chunks of information and be recalled!
The chunks could be based on the position in which you learn the information, similarities between the pieces of information that you need to memorise, or anything that helps you remember the information.
For example, when preparing to leave the house, you might chunk the group of items you need to bring, e.g. phone, wallet, keys, jacket, and name the chunk "ready". Or you might group items on your grocery list by aisle.
What's your favourite mnemonic technique
Related (older blog posts of mine): Latest research confirms your brain regenerates and exercise helps
@Medium - Follow me on Medium ↗, covering ⭑food, ⭑brain, ⭑body, ⭑life
03 How To Judge Your Perceived Rate of Exertion
Because heart rate zones reflect a population average on an average day, with average health, average sleep, and average stress and strain, they are not especially beneficial if you want to optimise your training results.
The fantastic benefit of the zones is that you see how you are doing at a glance.
But what do you do if you have had a bad night, are feeling some lingering weakness from an infection, are not eating healthily, have had a stressful week, are taking some new medicine? Do you still push to stay in your Zone?
Training by heart rate zones has 3 significant weaknesses as far as training outcomes are concerned: (1) you can push too hard for your state of health, (2) you tend to lose the connection between mind and body, and (3) they don't adjust to improvements in your cardiovascular fitness.
⇒ The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a technique that overcomes the weaknesses of heart rate zone training. In practice, you can use them together beneficially.
What this means for you: Here's my guide for recognising and maintaining Zone 2 using RPE, and identifying when you're crossing into Zone 3:
Zone 2 RPE Feelings (Light to Moderate Effort)
- Breathing: Easy and rhythmic, able to hold full conversations.
- Muscle Sensation: Comfortable, with no significant strain.
- Overall Effort: Feels like you can maintain this intensity for a long time without fatigue.
Signs of Crossing into Zone 3 (Moderate to Hard Effort)
- Breathing: Becomes more laboured, talking in full sentences is harder.
- Muscle Sensation: Starts to feel a bit more strain, especially in the legs if running.
- Overall Effort: Intensity starts to feel challenging, and sustaining it for a long duration seems less certain.
If Entering Zone 3: Easing Back into Zone 2
- Slow Down: Reduce your intensity slightly until breathing and effort return to Zone 2 levels.
- Focus on Breathing: Take deep, controlled breaths to help regulate your effort.
- Monitor Sensations: Pay attention to your body's response and adjust your intensity accordingly.
Calibrate: Once you have mastered the feeling of RPE adjust your heart rate zone limits on your device to match those you see when exercising e.g. in Zone 2.
Becoming aware of your exertion levels and building this skill into your exercise will help you adjust your effort to reflect your state of health on the day and help you maintain an optimum level of intensity for your endurance training.
04 Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing - An Underrated Exercise
Our exercise of the week is... the 2-handed kettlebell swing.
If kettlebell swings are not on your list of favourite exercises, it may be worth you reconsidering. Here's why, and the less obvious reasons might surprise you.
Aside from improved strength and power, cardiovascular fitness, joint mobility and flexibility, posture and balance, bone health, and functional movement, you'll accrue benefits that no other single exercise offers.
Kettlebell swings contribute to tendon health in a unique way, and this increasingly matters as we age:
- Tendon Loading: KB swings involve controlled and dynamic movements that load the tendons in our lower body, particularly the Achilles tendon and the tendons around the hips. This loading stimulates the tendons' metabolic response, promoting their adaptation and strengthening.
- Eccentric Training: The eccentric phase of the kettlebell swing, where the weight is lowered back down, places a specific demand on the tendons. Such eccentric exercises have been shown to stimulate tendon remodelling and improve tendon strength.
- Collagen Synthesis: Tendon health and strength rely on collagen production, which provides structural support. KB swings stimulate collagen synthesis, promoting tendon strength and resilience.
- Injury Prevention: Strong and healthy tendons are less prone to injury. Maintaining your tendon integrity reduces the risk of tendon-related issues such as tendinopathy or tears.
Few other exercises combine so many benefits as we age in one movement. This means you can spend less time exercising and get more benefits.
⇒ My BIG CAVEAT regarding starting out with kettlebell swings is the importance of proper technique and gradual progression.
The multifaceted benefits of kettlebells derive from the multidimensional dynamic loads they place on our body - in contrast to holding a dumbbell, for example. These same forces raise the risk of injury if you do not master the proper technique. Careless use typically leads to shoulder, lower back, hamstring and hip injuries.
I have been using kettlebells for 25 years without injury.
What this means for you: It's essential to learn the proper technique from a qualified kettlebell instructor. I paid for my first lessons, and then 3 years later, I paid again for an assessment and error-correction advice. It was money well spent.
If you have had expert instruction at some stage and need a refresher, this video from Mark Wildman is excellent, as it explains the fine points.
If you are wondering what the fuss is about, why not pick up a kettlebell and try it? Here is some food for thought.
You have to understand these, perfect these, and more, to avoid injury:
- The uniqueness of the kettlebell swing is in the hip extension.
- The swing is a loaded hip-hinge movement, not a squat. It primarily engages the hips, with less flexion-extension at the ankles and knees.
- The setup is crucial for a good swing, including having a balanced stance, rooted heels, and a locked-in abs position.
- Use your hips to generate force, not your arms. Keep your arms relaxed and let them come along for the ride.
- Avoid common errors such as weak lock-out, swooping, squatting, lifting with the arms, hyperextended lumbar spine, swinging the kettlebell too low, rounded upper back, and not loading the hamstrings properly.
- Practice good glute activation at the peak of the swing to ensure optimal muscle engagement.
Prioritising technique, gradual progression, and proper supervision are crucial to minimise the risk of injury and optimise the fabulous benefits.
Start gradually, stay safe, and enjoy the journey.
Thanks for reading!
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