Jun 142016

A great TED Talk companion to the SagePresence work we do in Evolve.

“Have you ever felt like you’re talking, but nobody is listening? Here’s Julian Treasure to help. In this useful talk, the sound expert demonstrates the how-to’s of powerful speaking — from some handy vocal exercises to tips on how to speak with empathy. A talk that might help the world sound more beautiful.”

Aug 032015

Wendy DankoWith age and experience comes wisdom . . . and plenty of grist for good advice.

Wendy Danko, a participant in the current Evolve class at Wilder Center, sees a huge opportunity for older adults to rediscover their creative selves and, at the same time, pass along something of value to future generations.

Wendy is owner of Wendy Danko Graphic Arts, Incorporated and, with the help of the Evolve class, has formed The Advice Project. The project helps people share their thought, insights and advice in visual form. According to Wendy, “putting ideas to art, like words to music, opens whole new frontiers and is a fun way to get people involved in conversation.”

Using a unique process that she created, Wendy guides participants in her workshops to make beautiful and expressive combinations of words and images. She starts by asking participants to ponder the question: “What advice would I give my younger self?” Participants walk away with art journaling skills that they can use in keeping a personal art journal long after the class.
Learn to play an instrument
—Pat, aged 54

Laugh. . .breath deeply, follow your
own path, use sunscreen, don’t
push the river, beware of the tide.

—Echo, aged 65

Many people find an increased interest in creativity as they age. This is often a time of fewer demands from family and career and greater opportunity for reflection. Being creative can be good for you too. According to Wendy’s research people who engage in creative activities are better problem solvers. Creativity also seems to strengthen the immune system and speed recovery of injuries and disease (Cohen, 2000). “More research is needed but the results so far are promising,” says Wendy.

Wendy is building a website for the project: www.TheAdviceProject.org, which will be up and running later this spring. She has schedule two pilot sessions in senior housing settings and the project will be in full swing by summer 2013. For more information contact Wendy at wendy@wendydanko.com.

Aug 032015

Salo concert photoWhat’s a summer without a concert in the park? That’s the question Jan Fillmore asked last fall when she started the Evolve class. She knew that music was an essential element of a good quality of life in a community.

St. Anthony Village has hosted the Salo Park Summer Concert Series for several years. Residents of the area run the series and this year, Jan was the chair of a small committee charged with planning it. Jan had ambitious goals: Increase the ethnic diversity of the music, increase publicity, increase attendance, and improve overall satisfaction with the concerts.

The series ended last Thursday on a high note with Ecuador Manta, an Andean band with traditional rhythms from south America and pan flutes echoing over the pond on a beautiful summer evening.

The series included community bands, smaller ensembles, and soloists, and represented a variety of musical genres: folk, country, rock, blues, pop, jazz and classical. “The Salo Park amphitheater is a favorite venue for many of these groups who want to return year after year; we have more groups who want to play here than we have space for with a 10-concert series,” says Jan.

“We increased the number of people at this year’s concerts compared to last year by 20 percent,” says Jan. “People loved the variety in the music. We received many very positive comments. By all measures it was a success. I was grateful for the support my Evolve classmates provided in keeping me on track in the planning process. Now on to next year!”

Aug 032015

“I am so excited about being a part of something that makes such a significant impact on kids,” says Judy Harvey, a retired IT professional and 2014 Evolve grad.

Judy’s Evolve project is to work with the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation to support the Inspired Educator Grant Program. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports the students, teachers and schools in the St. Paul School District.

Connecting to Passions

When Judy approached them, the foundation had awarded twelve 2013 Inspired Educator grants, and wonderful work was underway. They were concerned because they did not have the resources to tell the stories about the exciting activities and the real outcomes the program was producing.

Judy offered her skills and talents as a project manager to collect the stories. She will interview and take photos of each grant recipient. She will package the info for each teacher, ready for the foundation to prepare communications for the public, school officials and funders and summarize results for future use in evaluating grant applications.

The project has be a resounding success both for Judy and for the Foundation. Judy has been invited to participate on the Foundation’s Grant-making Committee and assist with a new gallery space displaying student art.

Life Changing Experiences

“The Evolve class has changed me and changed my life,” says Judy. “I’ve made new friends and I have developed rewarding work around my life-long passion for reading.”

These are examples of the exceptional work being done under the Inspired Educator Grant program:

popular-books-2web_302AGAPE High School
AGAPE provides a supportive educational environment for pregnant teens and teen moms so they can complete high school and continue into post-secondary education. Inspired Teacher, Anna Maria Gaylord, planned to replace their old, tired collection of books with high interest books that appeal to students—both for themselves and their small children.

The goal was to create reading as a way of life. The project encourages students to increase the time spent reading, to have a book of interest always with them, to talk about books, and to read to their children.

According to Gaylord, “street lit” simply flies off the shelves. “Some stories are rather rough, but the girls are reading and are excited about reading.”

Central High School
The 10th grade English class is generally made up of students who struggle with being successful students. Some come into class as lower-level readers and writers, some have higher-skill levels but lack motivation, some are students of the English language and some come into the classroom with habits that make performing well academically difficult for them. Because of these factors, the tenth grade English class is generally thought of as very challenging.

English teacher, Anthony Jacob’s project is to have each student write every day and then publish a personally powerful piece of polished writing that they are proud to share with their community. He will compile the writings into a book that will be made available to the school and the local neighborhood library. The goal is that at least 75% will self-reflect and self-identify as authors. At the beginning of the year, only 10% did so.

phalenlake-stills-loadedweb_300Phalen Lake Elementary
Of the 730 students at Phalen Lake Elementary in grades pre-K-5, 94% qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch and 80% are English Language Learners. The focus at the school is teaching cross-cultural competency through studying Hmong culture and history.

Pang Kang’s and May Lee Xiong’s project is to integrate technology and culture by collecting folktales and presenting them in a movie format.  Four 5th grade classes with 100 participants will compete in the project. The school will host an Academy Awards at the end of the school year and the best film-makers will receive Oscars.

Aug 032015

Kris Gjerde, PT, MPH, kicked off a Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!) class, http://www.pwr4life.org, in January 2015, at the St. Paul Parks & Recreation in Highland Park.

As a person with Parkinson’s, Kris had searched for a high level PWR! class in the East Metro area without success. As she considered project ideas for the Evolve class, she kept coming back to her desire to have PWR! classes accessible to St. Paul residents. Unable to let go of her passion, Kris decided to make an ongoing commitment to PWR!

Participants with and without Parkinson disease routinely attend her class, determined to actively invest in their health. A survey of participants conducted after week six, provide insights into the value of the program:

pwr_158“I like moving a lot and using my brain at the same time!”
“This class would be good for everyone!”
“I have more energy.”
“I sleep better.”

Kris Gjerde’s exercise classes apply the Basic 4 | PWR! Moves™, created by neuroscientist, Dr. Becky Farley. This class is designed to increase balance, flexibility and posture, improve gait and prevent falls. Research has proven that when implemented correctly, exercise can slow the progression of many key Parkinson’s related symptoms and greatly improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. All adults are welcome.

For more information, contact Kris Gjerde at kgjerde@gmail.com

Jul 132015

Mark Skeie and I, Julie Roles, had the pleasure of meeting Neil Baker, MD, today in a telephone conference. We were impressed with his thoughts on dealing with tensions that arise in community leadership. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, I think you will find this article interesting and informative.

Baker notes that conflict occurs frequently in public life. “One common trap in such situations is to assume that if we act rationally, fairly, without blame, and with calm emotions, then others will or should automatically follow our lead with their behavior. But, the stress of interpersonal difficulties causes everyone, at times, to fall into unproductive relational patterns. This can happen even when people have the best of intentions and skills. Starting with expectations that everyone will always act according to their best values puts us at substantial risk for disappointment or anger and then falling into our own problematic communication and behavior.”

Read the article.

Feb 222015

This is the fourth and final installment in a series entitled Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine.

senior woman exercisingFunctional workouts can be quick and to the point. Functional workouts use motions that mimic things you do in the course of your day. You can take almost any activity of daily living (ADL) and turn it into an exercise by emphasizing correct form and technique. For example, if you pick something up off the floor by properly using your leg and back muscles, or if you blow-dry your hair while standing up straight and using full shoulder movements, or if you stretch to reach something on the top shelf while properly using your ankles, abdominal muscles, shoulders and neck, you have potentially created an exercise. If these movements reveal weakness or stiffness in any muscles or joints, you can turn that ADL into something useful.

Here’s an example: getting up and down off the floor. It requires flexibility and lower body strength.

How to Get Off the Floor by Mia

VAN board member, Mia Bremer, is owner of Ablebodies, a fitness consulting firm for older adults. She has created this 6-minute video to illustrate techniques for getting up off the floor. This is a vitally important skill and one that can be learned and acquired, even if you are currently not able to get up from the floor.

You may want to view this video repeatedly and memorize its techniques. If the movements are difficult, turn it into an exercise! Perhaps do as many of these different moves as you are able three times in a row each day. Too challenging? Then you may need a special program of strength and flexibility. Consider consulting a fitness trainer.

Exerciser, Know Thyself

I’ve been impressed, ever since researching my material for Part 4 of the first series, Think of Exercise as a Pill, just how much exercise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests we do, even in our later years. HHS recommends exercise that challenges us—as much as we can safely handle. Gains in health and stamina occur when we overload our muscles; the trick is in knowing how much overload is safe. Even if we are regular exercisers, we need to be aware that our bodies change with age. We become more susceptible to injury. Our backs aren’t as flexible; knee cartilage isn’t as resilient; shoulder ligaments aren’t as strong; sense of balance isn’t as acute; vision may not be as good.

As I said in Part 4 of Exercise as a Pill, adults over age 50 are the most diverse group when it comes to physical ability. It is important to assess your abilities realistically as you plan your workout program. Start gradually, listen to your body, and consult a fitness trainer if you don’t know where to start.

Correct posture and form are important in any exercise you do, be it aerobic or strength training. Any tempo or resistance that causes you to break out of good form is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Do not risk finding yourself on the floor, for example, by turning up the speed on a treadmill too high. Any exercise that gives you pain or makes you feel faint or dizzy should be stopped immediately.

How Much Time Do You Have for Exercise Today?

In this series, Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine, I’ve tried to show that exercise can indeed be fit into a busy day. You may not have the time for a full workout every day, but you can do a lot in short time intervals to improve your health and improve how you feel. This current series has focused on short, simple exercises. Many of the concepts, recommendations, and precautions I’ve covered in this exercise series as well as in the previous series are discussed in the following book—in more detail and with more expertise. I recommend it highly, and it’s available at the library. (Like some other resources I’ve recommended, it does contain nutrition advice which I have not reviewed and cannot comment on.)

  •  The Exercise Cure: A Doctor’s All-Natural, No-Pill Prescription for Better Health & Longer Life by Jordan D. Metzl, MD, New York, NY: Rodale, Inc, 2013.

Space and time do not allow me to present all the exercise options that are available to you. There is a whole universe of functional exercise options like walking, jogging, water aerobics, swimming, dancing, cross-country skiing, and many others. With so many options available, both for short workouts and for longer workouts, how can you not find exercises that fit into every day of your busy life?


John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Mia Bremer and Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.


Feb 152015

David Carr, The New York Times media columnist who died unexpectedly Thursday night, offered many lessons for life. Among them is this on developing your own voice: “Who you are and what you have been through should give you a prism on life that belongs to you only.”  Last fall he joined the faculty at Boston University and the syllabus for his class, “Press Play,” is available online. I am looking forward to digging into it. I think you will find it interesting, too.

Feb 112015

This is the third of a series of installments entitled: Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Vital senior couple exercising in the gym.Maximum time efficiency requires indoor settings with readily available equipment. The workouts you design here will be useful any time of year. In Part 2 of this series, I offered resources for chair and office workouts. Here, I am offering resources that don’t use chairs. From these, you’ll be able to create exercise routines as short as 3 minutes in length. The shorter the workout, the less complete it will be, but it will still be much better than nothing. Pick and choose exercises that work a variety of muscle groups and make you feel good.

Words of Caution

If you’re just beginning to exercise, remember that people who are out of shape often start too ambitiously and wind up with sore muscles or actual injuries. Start small and build up, ideally with a few exercises several times a day.

If, as you get stronger, you cannot find time to lengthen your workouts, then progress will necessitate raising the cardio speed or the weight resistance. Please be mindful that with more strenuous workouts, muscles will need more time for warming up and cooling down.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is popular right now and is marketed as a way of creating shorter workouts. See the end of Part 4 of my previous series, Think of Exercise as a Pill, for a description of HIIT. When properly done, short intervals of high-intensity aerobic exertion inserted between longer intervals of low to moderate-intensity exertion can yield more average intensity per minute than longer, steady-tempo workouts, thereby burning the same amount of calories and fat in shorter time.[1]

Another way to shorten workouts is to do more resistance exercise than aerobic exercise, because lifting weights can take less time than cardio if you minimize reps and rest periods. Resistance exercise does benefit more than just muscle. It has been shown to burn fat, control glucose and blood pressure, and improve nerve function;[2] it may even protect the heart but it has not yet been shown to increase longevity. There are fitness gurus who advocate resistance exercise with heavy weights, claiming you don’t need aerobic workouts at all, but this is actually unproven. Current research suggests aerobic exercise and resistance exercise improve the body in rather different ways, and current science hasn’t yet figured out how to measure and compare these differing benefits.[3]

I offer three cautions about high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance exercise with heavy weights. First, at present, resistance exercise appears to be healthiest when it complements aerobic exercise instead of replacing it. (See Parts 4 and 6 of Exercise as a Pill for how it can complement.) Second, any exercise at higher intensity carries a higher risk of injury, so attain some degree of fitness before considering HIIT. Third, exercise that is excessively strenuous can break down muscle tissue rather than strengthen it.[2] Listen to your body and avoid exercise that is too effortful. (Part 4 of Exercise as a Pill tells how you can measure effort.)

Recommended Sources

I searched the terms “efficient exercise” and time saving exercise,” and recommend the following good items. You can get the books and the DVD from your library, via inter-library loan if need be.

  • Get Moving: 15-Minute Cardio Workout with Lawrence Biscontini (YouTube). Practice and memorize these steps and someday they can become a warm-up for more advanced workouts. The moves here are low impact, whereas many other short cardio videos use jumping exercises to quickly get your heart pumping.


  • The Burst Workout (Book) by Sean Foy. This book includes 12 different High Intensity Interval Training workouts of varying difficulty, excellently written with good illustrations and good tips on posture and form. Some of these exercises can be done in the office. Advice on nutrition is included which I have not reviewed and cannot comment on.
  • Men’s Health 15-Minute Workout (DVD). Four demanding 15-minute workouts are presented, some using hand weights or a jump rope. The workouts are balanced regarding aerobic vs. resistance.
  • Quick Fit – The Complete 15-Minute No-Sweat Workout (Book) by Richard Bradley, III. A well-balanced, 15-minute workout that needn’t be intense plus an expanded workout requiring a bit more time. Hand weights are needed.
  • The 90-Second Fitness Solution (Book) by Pete Cerqua. These exercises are extreme time-savers, written for women but suitable for men too. However, they are resistance exercises only. I disagree with some of the teaching points in Chapter 1—you’ll recognize which ones from reading my series—and I haven’t read the nutritional advice. The squat on page 46 can be hard on knees if you squat all the way down. He does offer an exercise for bad knees on page 78.

Watch for Part 4 of this series, “The Value of Functional Workouts.”


John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.



[1]Kravitz L and Vella C. ACSM Current Comment: Energy Expenditure in Different Modes of Exercise. Fact Sheet from the American College of Sports Medicine, www.acsm.org.

[2]Egan B and Zierath J. Exercise Metabolism and the Molecular Regulation of Skeletal Muscle Adaptation. Cell Metab (Cell Metabolism) 2013; 17:162-84.

[3]Borsheim E and Bahr R. Effect of Exercise Intensity, Duration, and Mode on Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Sports Med (Sports Medicine) 2003; 33:1037-60

Feb 012015

This is the second of a series of installments entitled: Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Twenty years ago, I took lessons in hip hop dancing, which employs muscles I was not accustomed to using. My dance instructor recognized this immediately and taught me dynamic stretches, which are slow and continuous movements unlike static stretches where you hold each pose for a while. One particular stretch seemed to loosen my back and chest in a way no other stretch has, so I have performed it ever since, most every day.

In Part 1 of this series, I suggested you not fret about the duration or intensity of your workouts as you begin; just start with a little something and do it several times a day. Work a few muscles in the morning while you swish mouthwash or get dressed and then maintain that exercise mindset by doing chair or office exercises during sedentary portions of your day.

Tips for Getting Started

Like me, you can learn exercises from fitness trainers, dance instructors, or exercise classes. Here are some other ideas to get you started:

  • Search online or at the library. Good online resources are youtube.com and www.amazon.com. Search on terms such as “chair exercise,” “office exercise,” or “workplace exercise” and you will find sources for a multitude of exercises.
  • Look for exercises using hand weights, ankle weights, and resistance bands once you feel ready to increase your strength.
  • Pick just a few exercises that appeal to you and seem feasible in the space you have.
  • Methodically practice each exercise while looking at the book or video until you have it correct and committed to muscle memory.
  • Add a couple new exercises every 2-3 weeks, gradually developing a repertoire that works a variety of muscle groups.
  • Discard exercises that lose their appeal. Retain only those that meet your needs.

Sources That I Recommend

I recently reviewed a number of books, DVDs, and videos under the subject headings mentioned above. Here are four that I recommend. The first two are YouTube videos you can click on and play. The last two are at the Hennepin County Library and can be obtained from your library, via inter-library loan if need be.

  • 5-5-5 Chair Workout with Lawrence Biscontini (YouTube video). This is a good 15-minute aerobic and strength workout in a chair. (Thanks to Mia Bremer, owner of Ablebodies and a Vital Aging Network board member, for this suggestion.)

  • Priority One – Getting Started – 106 by Alexis Mason (YouTube video). This video offers 27 minutes of good, beginning chair exercises.

  • Office Yoga: Moderate Exercises in Your Cubicle (DVD) by Danielle Scane.[1] In 20 minutes, this DVD demonstrates a remarkable repertoire of exercises, performed in a cramped office cubicle.
  • Stretching In The Office (Book) by Bob Anderson,2 a good source for stretching exercises designed to be done in an office setting.

A word of caution: Not all sources provide the guidance you need to avoid injury. Here’s one pointer: Do not ad lib with hand weights; do only the exercises shown to you by skilled trainers. It may be safest to avoid videos where the instructors mostly smile and groove to the music as they exercise. Good instructors may get into the music but you’ll see that their focus is really on instruction, and they offer frequent tips and precautions as they demonstrate their exercises.

New Office Workstations

Standing and height-adjustable workstations have been available for some time; treadmill, cycling, and elliptical workstations are now being developed. The research on these suggests improvement in mood, depression, overall fatigue, and musculoskeletal discomfort, but other results—on worker satisfaction, boredom, stress reduction, productivity, and ability to concentrate—are still preliminary.

Watch for Part 3 of this series next week, ”Time-Saving Workouts.”


John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.





1 Scane D. Office Yoga: Moderate Exercises in Your Cubicle (DVD). Costa Mesa, CA: Danielle Scane, 2009.

[2] Anderson B. Stretching In The Office (Book). Bolinas, CA: Bob and Jean Anderson and Shelter Publishers, Inc, 2002.

Jan 252015

This is the first of a series of  installments entitled: Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine


We’ve all heard people say they don’t have time to exercise but I would suggest that for many if not all of those people, time may not be the problem; it may be focus. Time management is always helpful, of course, but in the long run, focus combined with enthusiasm and resourcefulness is more apt to win out. The only time-management skill you absolutely must have is avoiding life in continuous crisis mode. Some suggestions:

  • Take stock of your many commitments and the customary pace of your day.
  • Manage or distribute these commitments to prevent crises.
  • Allow adequate time for nutrition and sleep.
  • Don’t fret over perceived lack of time.

Part 6 of the series just finished, Think of Exercise as a Pill That Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More, suggested you spell out an exercise program that identifies “every type of activity to be done, the level of effort at which it will be done, and the duration of that effort.” For those of you who are busy, try relaxing this strict scheduling as outlined in the bullet points below.

Create Achievable Goals

It’s probably safe to assume goal-setting will assist us adults with exercise performance; after all, goal-setting does appear to benefit school athletes and professional athletes.[1] As discussed in Part 5 of Exercise as a Pill, the best goals are realistic, specific and incremental.

  • Top Priority: Move frequently during the day. Get up out of your chair every 30 minutes if possible. (The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says sitting down for long periods of time can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems even for people who are active at other times of the day.)2
  • Pressed for time? Set goals that specify several different times in the day when you will exercise, but as you begin, don’t worry too much about the durations of those exercises.

Exercise Several Times Each Day

Moving frequently during the day is important because recent research suggests physical inactivity allows noxious chemicals like free radicals to build up in muscles, and this might be a significant cause of muscle aging.[3] So why not fit exercise into several parts of your day?

  • While brushing your teeth in the morning, warm up some muscles, for example by doing side bends, hip swivels, or body twists. Perhaps try standing on one leg and then the other, or alternating between standing on your tip toes and rocking back on your heels. (Use your free hand to hang onto the sink, if needed.)
  • As you sit during the day, do chair exercises. (More on this next week.)
  • In the evening as you wash dishes or watch TV or talk on the phone, devise some additional exercises.

The point here is that focusing on exercise will help get you started. Focus is the key. In Exercise as a Pill, you learned the importance of exercise. Now you will actually begin to exercise, and frequently, provided you maintain mindfulness of it throughout your day!

Watch for Part 2 of this series next week, “Your Chair or Office as Fitness Studio.”

John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.




1 Martin G, Thompson K, Regehr K. Studies using Single-Subject Designs in Sport Psychology: 30 Years of Research. The Behavior Analyst. 2004; 27:263.

[2] Weight-control Information Network, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Tips to Help You Get Active. Go to http://health.nih.gov/ and click on “fitness” in the search box.  Under “Recommended NIH Resources” in the middle of the page, scroll down and click on “Weight-control Information Network.” Now, on the left-hand side, click on Publications • For the Public. Finally, scroll down the list of Publications – For the Public and click on “Tips to Help You Get Active.”

[3] Venturelli M, Morgan GR, Donato AJ, et al. Cellular Aging of Skeletal Muscle: Telomeric and Free Radical Evidence that Physical Inactivity is Responsible and not Age. Clin Sci [Lond] (Clinical Science [London]). 2014; 127:415.

Jan 162015
people working as a team

Olimpia Zagnoli

Thomas W. Malone and Christopher Chabris; The New York Times, January 16, 2015.

Are some groups, like some people, reliably smarter than others? The authors of this article set out to answer that question. They found three traits in the smartest team:

  1. Members contribute more equally.
  2. Members score higher on a test called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes.”
  3. The teams have more women.

Read the full article.

Dec 212014

Woman stretchingIt’s well-documented that people who were sedentary during their young or middle years of life are much more likely to remain sedentary as they age. Fitting exercise into a daily routine for the first time represents major change; conscious repetition is the key to establishing a new habit like this.

Chapters 4 and 5 of the HHS Guidelines offer some examples of how you might incorporate exercise into your daily schedule.[1] Also, my new series coming in a couple weeks will provide practical tips for adding exercise to a busy schedule.

Things to consider as you start each day:

  • When you choose to exercise outdoors, pick safe times of the day when lighting is good, ground conditions are acceptable, and temperatures are not extreme. For running or jumping, look for shock-absorbing surfaces like natural turf and playgrounds.
  • If you do exercise in hot temperatures, pay attention to rest, shade, and drinking enough fluids.
  • Find a safe place to exercise – places that are well-lighted and maintained (no litter, no broken windows, no holes in the ground), places where other people are present. Separate yourself from motor vehicles.
  • For those with serious medical conditions or disabilities, the safest place to exercise may be a supervised setting.
  • Allow some minutes for warm-up and cool-down. Most of us aren’t fit enough to count these minutes as aerobic exercise, so these minutes must be in addition to our aerobic minutes. However, a cool-down with stretches can meet the flexibility portion of your workout requirement (Part 6).

Remember, you are doing something important here, so important that The American Heart Association made this sweeping statement in its most recent exercise recommendation for older adults: “Given the breadth and strength of the evidence, physical activity should be one of the highest priorities for preventing and treating disease and disablement in older adults.”[2] (2) (Boldface emphasis is mine.)

A large study of 252,925 men and women, aged 50-71, who lived in 6 states across America in 1995, showed many of the benefits of exercise we’ve reviewed in this series. But one particularly striking benefit was, the people who watched more than 2 hours of television or video per day were observed to have a 50 percent reduction in mortality over 5 years if they self-reported at least 3 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week plus at least 1 additional hour of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.[3] Now, self-reporting on questionnaires is a somewhat unreliable way of collecting data, because people tend to over-report how much they exercise. But the point remains, exercise clearly reduced mortality in TV and video watchers, so I suspect it will do the same for those of us who sit 2 or more hours a day at a computer.

Which begs the question . . . have you taken your exercise pill today?


Read other entries in this series. Download a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.



1 Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008.

[2] Nelson M, Rejeski W, Blair S, et al. Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults, Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 2007: 116:1094.

[3] Leitzmann M, Park Y, Blair A, et al. Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality. Arch Intern Med 2007; 167:2453.

Dec 142014

This is the seventh of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Two elderly women doing muscle exercises with weights in gym.One key to successful exercise is listening to your body. With awareness and experience comes the ability to recognize important signals. You’ll recognize and appreciate the healthy discomfort of well-used muscles, tendons, and ligaments. You’ll be able to distinguish it from the unhealthy discomfort of misuse which says back off or change what you’re doing.

Few pleasures exceed the gratifying sensations a strong, healthy, flexible body and being aware of these sensations will help you stay motivated. Let me share a personal story. Twenty years ago, after regularly exercising several times weekly for about 1 year, I suddenly noticed one afternoon as I exited from the gym into cool weather how pleasantly warm my muscles felt. My muscles distinctly felt like a warm blanket around me. I had never noticed such a feeling before and it was so invigorating that I remember the moment to this day!

Listening to your body is vitally important, and perhaps nowhere more important than when doing physical chores necessitated by Mother Nature. Think for a moment about things like snow shoveling, garden digging, gutter clearing, or house painting. In Part 6, I could have facetiously labeled these chores a fifth area of exercise, but humor is out of place here. It’s deceptively easy and dangerous to let Mother Nature dictate how hard to exert yourself, so be mindful of your body. Granted, you can limit the size of your garden or take days and weeks to clean out your gutters, but snow shoveling is different. You simply can’t get the car out of the garage until all the driveway is sufficiently cleared.

Snow shoveling is vigorous or near-vigorous activity and multiple studies have demonstrated that lifting snow, particularly wet, heavy snow, puts people at risk for heart attacks – especially sedentary people. The risk is not high, mind you, but it is there, and in addition, a subset of people may be vulnerable to heart attacks in cold temperatures. 1 Physical fitness offers substantial protection from shoveling-induced heart attacks, even for individuals with known coronary heart disease.

Listening to your mind and your thoughts is a second key to successful exercise. If you’re finding it hard to stick to a regular exercise program, cognitive behavioral psychology – the science of how attitude, perceptions, and self-image influence changes in behavior – may help. I offer here in italics some concepts from cognitive behavioral advocates. Many of the points here come from an insightful blog Christy Matta, MA wrote about dieting and losing weight. 2 Her advice could apply equally well to keeping up an exercise program.

To accomplish behavioral change, set specific, realistic goals. Overly ambitious goals can be discouraging. Surround yourself with people who will encourage your efforts. Valuable assistance can come from people in similar circumstances who have made the changes you want to make. Use a buddy system or join a group from church, health club, work, or community. Get regular feedback from your buddy(ies) on progress. [But don’t use their techniques for weight lifting. Remember Part 6?] You can use peers or lay health advisors to help tailor your program to your cultural beliefs, values, language, literacy, and customs.

Look at the way you think about yourself. Is your self-image setting up barriers? If you start a program with the expectation that you will fail, you greatly reduce your chances for success. What do you think your ability is to make the changes you want? The best way to improve your belief in that ability is to actually have some success in reaching specific goals.

When you self monitor, you begin to notice barriers and challenges to changing your behavior. Too often we rely on negative self-judgment to motivate us and in so doing, fail to see real barriers to change. Self monitoring requires that, rather than beating yourself up for not reaching a goal, you attend to your own individual experiences.

Christy Matta goes on to say, some employers now offer low-priced, onsite fitness facilities for exercising. Others offer cash. To that I would add that some health insurers offer incentives like gift cards or health-club-membership discounts when you exercise regularly, and some offer insurance premium discounts.

Cognitive behavioral experts will warn you, declining adherence to a program of change typically occurs at 4 to 6 months. I will personally attest that exercise can lose its shine and feel humdrum, particularly when I lose sight of a meaningful goal and competing interests or distractions threaten to interfere. Be on guard, and if something pulls you away from exercise, don’t get down on yourself. Instead, reflect on what this says about you and then take this new insight back to exercise, perhaps approaching it differently.

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.



1 Thompson P, Franklin B, Balady G, et al. Exercise and Acute Cardiovascular Events, Placing the Risks into Perspective. A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism and the Council on Clinical Cardiology. Circulation 2007; 115:2358.

[2] Matta C. Cognitive Behavioral Strategies for Losing Weight that Work. www.PsychCentral.com/blog/archives/2013/09/18.

Dec 132014

A beautifully produced video about how we all have a role to play in addressing the inequities in our world. Produced by the Community Knowledge Project.

Dec 082014

This is the sixth of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Young instructor is helping to an elder man

Aerobic Exercise has been our focus thus far in this series and it certainly has the most data documenting its health benefits, but there are 3 other important areas of physical capacity to consider as you design your exercise program.

Strength Training is important for everyone, and for adults with osteoarthritis, it may be of primary importance. HHS makes the following recommendation in its 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines:1

“Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all the major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week… . Muscle strengthening activities provide additional benefits not found with aerobic activity. … One set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise is effective, although two or three sets may be more effective.”

The term “major muscle groups” means arms, shoulders, torso (chest, abdomen, back), hips, and legs. For adults 65 and older, some experts offer a slightly different recommendation: 10 to 15 repetitions per set rather than 8 to 12.[2] More repetitions, of course, necessitates the use of slightly lighter weights, which harkens back to what was said in Part 5 of this series, namely that most older adults should focus on moderate rather than vigorous activity.

Muscle strengthening for the arms and shoulders can start with home-made equipment like soup cans or empty milk jugs filled with sand, but other muscle groups will require other equipment. Don’t start with weights that are uncomfortably heavy and don’t assume that every weight machine in a fitness club is safe to try. A wise person will not imitate the technique of just anyone in the weight room; most people use weight equipment incorrectly. Moreover, exercises that may be safe for the very young or the very strong may not be safe for you. Coaching for the beginner by an experienced fitness instructor or physical therapist can be invaluable, and such experts may teach you to strengthen important muscles you didn’t know you had.

Train regularly, train consistently, and be patient. Setting incremental goals and noting your progress may relieve some of the boredom that comes with weight training. Remember, you are preventing and/or treating disability.

Balance Training appears effective in reducing the risk of falling, but guidelines on balance training are not yet well-developed. The HHS Guidelines say:

“Older adults should do exercises that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling. … Reduction in falls is seen for participants in programs that include balance and moderate-intensity muscle-strengthening activities… .”

Chapter 5 of the HHS Guidelines describes a few simple balance exercises and supports the contention made in Part 2 of this series that muscle strengthening enhances the benefits of balance training.

A medical provider, physical therapist, or fitness instructor can design balance exercises to suit you. Properly done, these exercises will test your nervous system so Steve Rukavina, former Evolve participant and tai chi instructor, suggests focusing and relaxing: “Start with calm as you begin balance work. Quietly exhale your breath. Exhaling is easy, like the falling of a feather, and when you exhale fully, you will naturally inhale more deeply. Use a chair for support if you’re unsteady. As you develop strength and stamina, move away from the chair. Gently push out of your comfort zone. Your balance program should progress and have incremental goals.”

Flexibility is the fourth and final capability. Medical science has yet to prove any health benefits from flexibility exercises, but most likely this just means they haven’t been looked for. Common sense would say good flexibility of the body helps minimize injury in situations like falls and car accidents, and flexibility is certainly helpful for dancing, playing with the grandkids, picking things up off the floor, and seeing who or what is behind you. Flexibility exercises involve stretching, bending, and twisting. Use good judgment at the outset and proceed incrementally. Some people can bend over and touch their toes without thinking about it while others are doing well to reach their knees; both are acceptable starting points. The HHS Guidelines say:

“Older adults should maintain the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and activities of daily life. When done properly, stretching activities increase flexibility.”

Exercise experts do recommend that stretching, bending, and twisting be done for at least 10 minutes twice a week, but even better is doing this each day following aerobic or muscle-strengthening activity when the muscles are warm.[2] Muscles shorten when used and metabolic waste products like lactate build up. Stretching muscles after exercise restores them to resting length and facilitates removal of the waste products. Stretching and walking around also facilitates proper constriction of dilated peripheral arteries and gradual return of blood to the central circulation, and a fuller reduction in resting heart rate is achieved compared to ceasing exercise abruptly without cool-down.

How much time you spend cooling down after aerobic or muscle-strengthening activity depends on just how hard you exercised; 10 minutes is standard practice for many. But be careful; when you stretch, there should be no bouncing, no pulsing of the muscles, not into the stretch and not during the stretch. Go gradually and steadily, and hold each maximal stretch for 10-30 seconds before slowly letting up.

A 5 or 10-minute warm-up preceding moderate or vigorous exercise is also advisable. Go easy here because the muscles are cold. Gently shake your muscles as you move about; loosen your muscles and joints with slow, exaggerated motions; and stretch lightly, forcing nothing. Blood flow to the muscles will increase, as will heart rate and breathing rate, before the more strenuous exercises to come really bump them up.

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.



[1] Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008.

[2] Nelson M, Rejeski W, Blair S, et al. Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults, Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 2007: 116:1094.

Nov 302014

This is the fifth of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Getting older

If you panicked in Part 4 as you read how much aerobic activity the HHS Guidelines call for, why not begin your exercise program at an easier level and then advance in progressive increments? Use the HHS Guidelines as a goal. Chapter 6 of the Guidelines, under “Increase Physical Activity Gradually Over Time,” offers tips on deciding the pace at which to advance. But make no mistake, once you’ve developed (or now possess) reasonable physical capability, HHS is recommending that you do the level of aerobic activity they’re calling for, regardless of whether you are middle-aged, older, or much older. Just remember, if you’re not fully fit as you begin, start comfortably and wisely and keep advancing by appropriate amounts. Fitness trainers will tell you, exercising consistently, regularly, and frequently is vastly more important than how much you exert yourself on any one day or few days.

Each person really should begin by thoughtfully designing an exercise program that identifies every type of activity to be done, the level of effort at which it will be done, and the duration of that effort. Also identify how, when and where each activity will be performed and how often it will be performed per week or per month. It is particularly important that older adults make a plan like this. Design your program with disease prevention in mind; even if you already have one or more chronic medical conditions, you need preventative exercise to reduce the risk of acquiring another condition.

Therapeutic exercises may also need to be added your program. They sometimes differ from preventative exercises but are important for people with certain medical conditions. People with heart disease, lung disease, osteoarthritis, low back problems, and many other conditions can be helped immensely with properly-designed exercises. Therapeutic exercises are typically prescribed by a medical provider, and sometimes they are best taught by a fitness instructor or physical therapist.

Generally speaking, a medical evaluation prior to initiating exercise is not necessary for individuals who feel well and are at low risk for coronary heart disease, but such an evaluation should be done if you have any significant chronic condition affected by exercise. See your provider if you have heart, lung, or kidney disease, or a neurological condition, or if you have 2 or more factors like elevated cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, or diabetes that put you at risk for coronary heart disease. Also see your provider if you are taking medication for hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes. And finally, get checked out before exercising if you’ve had a close family member who suffered a heart attack or sudden death before age 60 or who was diagnosed with coronary heart disease before age 60.1

There are occasions and conditions where people should temporarily avoid exercise – for example, deep vein thrombosis (deep blood clots), certain retinal diseases like retinal detachment, and of course, recent surgery.

When adults with medical conditions or disabilities choose activities suitable to their abilities, physical activity is almost always safe. Safest, of course, are moderate-intensity, low-impact activities. Injuries can and do occur but they are infrequent; most are musculoskeletal injuries from overuse or excessive straining. Heart attacks have occurred during exercise but are actually quite rare. The HHS Guidelines tell us that inactive people who gradually advance over time to moderate-intensity exercise have no known risk of sudden cardiac events and a very low risk of bone, muscle, or joint injuries. As a rule, older adults should concentrate on doing moderate-intensity exercises and leave high-intensity routines for those who have exceptional fitness, experience, and knowledge of exercise.

A related point to stress here is that people should avoid sitting continuously for long periods of time. A recent Minneapolis StarTribune issue headlined recent research by proclaiming, “…living a sedentary lifestyle is as dangerous as smoking, especially for older Americans….”[2]  Carol Garber, Ph.D. of Columbia University was reported as saying just a short duration of inactivity can affect muscles adversely.

Indeed, health experts are now saying that while it’s important to meet exercise recommendations, it’s also important to keep moving throughout the day. Light activities aren’t aerobic but they do good things for your muscles. Look for opportunities to do at least light activities in a way that breaks up periods of sitting – household chores, walking about, and even standing instead of sitting all help.

It comes down to this – some exercise is better than none. HHS stresses in its Guidelines: Every adult should avoid inactivity. Adults participating in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits. One large study in Taiwan showed that individuals engaging in brief physical activity (15 minutes daily or 90 minutes weekly), even though the activity didn’t quite reach moderate intensity, still had a 14 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a three-year longer life expectancy than inactive individuals.3

Bottom Line: Avoid being sedentary!

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

[1] Peterson D. Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Exercise. UpToDate, Wolters Kluwer Health. August 20, 2014.

[2] The Good Life. Minneapolis Star Tribune, Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014

3 Wen C, Wai J, Tsai M, et al. Minimum Amount of Physical Activity for Reduced Mortality and Extended Life Expectancy: A Prospective Cohort Study. Lancet 2011; 378:1244.


Nov 242014

This is the fourth of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Senior man riding a bikeThe answer to the question posed here depends entirely on how fit and agile you are. The exercise program you design should be based on health guidelines but tailored to you.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans1 and they are excellently written. They agree substantially with independent recommendations by the CDC, the American Heart Association (AHA), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). I will summarize the main points but I encourage you to go to www.health.gov and read the chapters that apply to you. They are concise and easy to read, and six years after publication they remain the standard. The footnote below gives instructions on how to access these Guidelines.

Aerobic capacity (endurance) is built by activities like walking, jogging, dancing, swimming and cross-country skiing, where people move their large muscles rhythmically for sustained periods. The 2008 HHS Guidelines state:

“For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week. … A general rule of thumb is that 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity.”

Let’s explore what this recommendation means. Physical activity for more than 10 minutes can qualify as aerobic if it’s done at sufficient intensity. Light activity like self care, cooking, or casual walking does not qualify. Moderate-intensity activity will not qualify if it’s done for less than 10 minutes, so walking around the home or office or walking in from a parking lot usually isn’t aerobic. However, some physically-active occupations may count as aerobic and so can active transportation choices like walking or bicycling.

So what is moderate-intensity exercise? For middle-aged adults free of functional limitations, the definition is fairly arbitrary. It’s walking briskly (3 or more miles per hour [mph]) but not race-walking. It’s water aerobics, general gardening, bicycling at less than 10 mph, doubles tennis, hiking, walking as you carry your golf clubs, mowing the lawn with a push mower, or jogging at less than 6 mph. The cardio equipment you find in health clubs (elliptical machines, stair-climbing machines, stationary bicycles, and treadmills) can also provide moderate-effort exercise.

Of course, vigorous exercise is more intense. It’s race-walking or running at more than 6 mph. Racquetball, singles tennis, stair climbing, heavy gardening like continuous digging or hoeing, bicycling at more than 10 mph, rope jumping, calisthenics (jumping jacks, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups), and team sports can also be vigorous forms of exercise.

But, adults do differ in their exercise capacities and these differences are most apparent in older adults. Moderate effort is a brisk walk for some and a slow walk for others. So for adults 65 and older and for adults of any age with functional limitations, HHS advises getting away from arbitrary definitions of effort and using an effort scale that relates to an individual’s aerobic capacity. Intensity can be estimated using a scale of 0 to 10, where no effort is 0 and 10 is the highest level of effort possible. On this scale, moderate-intensity activity is a 5 or 6 and vigorous-intensity activity is a 7 or 8. Be careful though because subjective perception of effort is not a precise measure of true effort. If there is uncertainty, a fitness instructor can guide you on the appropriate level of effort. In general, when people expend moderate effort, they are unable to sing and when people exercise vigorously, they are unable to utter more than a few words between breaths.

Notice that, according to HHS, aerobic exercise can be performed for short periods several times a day and integrated into the course of one’s daily schedule; the focus is on total aerobic activity. By making no mention of measuring heart rate, the Guidelines keep things simple. Studies, in fact, have shown that the benefits of exercise can be readily obtained without setting or achieving goal heart rates.[2]

Notice also that the recommendations above are considered minimal – that is, the minimum most adults need to really benefit from exercise. Not all the health benefits of exercise occur at this minimum level, so the HHS Guidelines go on to say:

“For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.”

Chapter 4 of the Guidelines, under “How Much Total Activity a Week?” lists the additional health benefits achievable with this doubling of aerobic activity.

The upper limit of exercise, beyond which no significant benefits accrue, is not known. Upon making its recommendation for 300 minutes of moderate exercise weekly or 150 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, HHS goes on to add:

“Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.”

One way to achieve the benefits of higher-intensity activity may be with interval exercise and this has become quite popular recently. One example would be high-intensity interval walking, such as repeated three-minute sets of high-intensity walking (basically race-walking) alternating with three-minute sets of low-intensity walking. High-intensity interval training has been found to have several short-term physiologic benefits when compared to steady-tempo training, including improved cardiorespiratory fitness. However, the long-term health effects of high-intensity interval training are not known and there is more potential for injury with high-intensity exercise.[3]  The research is still preliminary. Varying the pace of your aerobic workouts may be beneficial, but it is perhaps best to avoid extreme changes in tempo.

Suggestion: Remembering the relative-effort scale, pay attention this week to whether you’re doing any aerobic activity that truly qualifies as moderate or vigorous. Then estimate how many minutes of that activity you do in a typical week.

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

1 Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Go to www.health.gov. In the middle of this page, there are 6 boxes arranged 3×3. The lower left box is labeled “Physical Activity Guidelines.” Click on “Learn more” and you’ll be taken to another page with 5 boxes in the middle. The box on the left of the second row has the heading “Guidelines.” Click on that heading and you’ll be taken to the index of the 2008 Guidelines. Chapter 4 on Active Adults and Chapter 5 on Active Older Adults are essential reading. You can also write to: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201. Toll Free: 1-877-696-6775.

[2] Douglas P. Exercise and Fitness in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. UpToDate, Wolters Kluwer Health. August 29, 2014.

[3] Peterson D. Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Exercise. UpToDate, Wolters Kluwer Health. August 20, 2014.

Nov 172014

This is the third of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Vegetable gardenIn parts 1 and 2, we learned that regular exercise delays death for many people and enhances quality of life in many wonderful ways. But surely for the very old and for individuals in very poor health, there can’t be much point in exercising, right? Doesn’t “the perfect life” imply gently fading away in a rocking chair?

Well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, along with other research institutions including the University of Minnesota, studied exercise in a large group of older women in the 1990s, asking them how far and how vigorously they walked each day and how often they danced or gardened, did aerobics or swam.1 The average age of these women was 77 years at the beginning of the study. The researchers found that those women who were sedentary at the start of the study but began exercising regularly during the 10-year observation period reduced their risk of death from all causes by 48 percent. In their data analysis, the researchers classified these women into groups according to overall health, ranging from good health to poor health, and found that basically this 48 percent reduction in mortality rate held true for every one of these health groups. This piece of evidence and many others like it have shown that regular exercise not only prevents chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, it also benefits people who already have these diseases, even people in poor health.

These same researchers went on to find that recent physical activity was a more important predictor of longevity than past physical activity. Sedentary women who became active over the course of the study had mortality rates similar to those who had exercised all along, and women who stopped exercising during the study had mortality rates similar to women who had been sedentary all along. This means that, in this trial, ongoing exercise was important for longevity.

Many studies published over the last 10 years have shown the benefits of exercise for both men and women in their 70s and 80s. An observational study from Pennsylvania and Tennessee in 2006 recruited men and women ages 70-79 and looked at all kinds of physical activity, not just dedicated exercise activity.2 This study found that any physical activity, if sustained for some period of time, helped lower mortality rates. It didn’t need to be dedicated exercise; any physical activity helped. These researchers estimated from their findings that 1 ¼ hours of physical activity per day doing things like vacuuming, mopping floors, washing windows, caring for children, and walking 2.5 miles per hour would reduce mortality rates by 30 percent. And this reduction in mortality was just as apparent for people who had heart disease, vascular disease, lung disease, and diabetes, and also for people who were current or former smokers. As you might expect, these researchers showed that increased activity produced increased benefits.

The medical benefits of regular exercise appear to start accruing after about 1 year. Even individuals who have been previously sedentary but who initiate exercise as late as age 85 demonstrate a significant survival benefit in three years in comparison to individuals who are sedentary. 3

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

1 Gregg E, Cauley J, Stone K, et al. Relationship of Changes in Physical Activity and Mortality Among Older Women. JAMA 2003: 289:2379.

2 Manini T, Everhart J, Patel K, et al. Daily Activity Energy Expenditure and Mortality Among Older Adults. JAMA 2006; 296:171.

3 Morey M. Physical Activity and Exercise in Older Adults. UpToDate, Wolters Kluwer Health. October 20, 2014.

Nov 102014

This is the second of a series related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More.

Woman doing qi gong tai chi exerciseAs I discussed in part 1 of this series, regular exercise prevents death and that’s certainly a wonderful benefit, but exercise also does a whole lot more. It imparts physical strength and stamina. It boosts energy levels and combats fatigue. Regular exercise has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease, chronic lung disease, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes. People with high blood pressure can safely exercise, provided their hypertension is controlled reasonably well, and regular exercise tends to lower blood pressure over time. Exercise can also prevent and treat obesity when combined with a weight loss diet; and exercise reduces the risk of osteoporosis, when it’s walking or jogging or a similar activity that gently jars the bones.

One of the great benefits of exercise is relief of stress and anxiety. Sleep improves. People suffering depression are helped, and some preliminary evidence suggests the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in older persons may lessen.

Many kinds of exercise promote balance and flexibility. Yoga and tai chi (also called tai chi chuan) are two examples. Combine balance work of this type with exercises that strengthen large muscles (legs, hips, torso [chest, abdomen and back], shoulders, and arms) and your risk of falling and injuring yourself will drop significantly. Randomized studies have shown that tai chi reduces the risk of falling in older people. Researchers have studied tai chi because it needn’t be strenuous, older people can perform it, and it utilizes sound principles of movement and posture.

One such randomized study from Connecticut demonstrated that tai chi did indeed help study subjects 75 years and older maintain balance skills, but the results suggested further that resistance exercises in combination with tai chi might do even better.1 The likely reason for the added benefit of resistance exercises is that, inevitably, sooner or later, people lose muscle mass as they age. Skinny legs and hips and weak backs and abdomens lead to more falls. Resistance training, where you exert your muscles against weights, springs, or elastic bands, increases both muscle strength and mass and slows down this loss. Pilates and weight-lifting are two good examples of resistance exercise and, quite honestly, it’s inspiring to see an 80 or 90-year-old suited up and working at a weight machine. Doing resistance exercises correctly and safely can be achieved with a few lessons from a fitness instructor.

Regular exercise has been shown to increase success rates for people who are trying to quit smoking. Exercise can help people who suffer from conditions of chronic pain, as in osteoarthritis. Regular exercise modestly reduces the risk of certain cancers like breast and colon cancer, and also endometrial, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, survival in persons who have these cancers is also improved by regular exercise.[2]

Exercise can be a stimulating social experience. Walking groups, fitness clubs, aerobic classes, ballroom dancing, and group classes for seniors can be social, informative, and motivating. And regular physical activity has been shown to improve the ease with which 70 to 78-year-olds perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and to increase the percentage of 78 to 85-year-olds who are still able to perform their ADLs independently.[3]

Chances are you’ve heard of some additional benefits with exercise, but here’s one you may not have heard: gallstones are less likely to cause trouble in people who exercise and happen to have gallstones in their gallbladders.

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.


[1] Wolfson L, Whipple R, Derby C, et al. Balance and Strength Training in Older Adults: Intervention Gains and Tai Chi Maintenance. J Am Geriatr Soc (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society) 1996; 44:498.

[2] Peterson D. Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Exercise. UpToDate, Wolters Kluwer Health. August 20, 2014.

[3] Stessman J, Hammerman-Rozenberg R, Cohen A, et al. Physical Activity, Function, and Longevity Among the Very Old. Arch Intern Med (Archives of Internal Medicine) 2009; 169:1476.


Oct 302014

This is the first of a series of eight installments related to physical fitness entitled: Think of Exercise as a Pill that Promotes Long Life and a Whole Lot More. New entries on this topic will appear weekly for next eight weeks.

Woman stretchingI’d like to make a point that may impress you. Think for a minute about the multitude of chronic diseases and the wonderful drugs that have been developed for them. When a drug company discovers a new drug that promises to cut flare-ups of a chronic disease by 30 percent, this is considered a drug worth pursuing, worth investing hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars to bring to market. Drugs don’t have to stamp out symptoms in 100 percent of sufferers to generate big profits. A 30 percent drop in the likelihood of suffering worsening disease draws rapt attention in the drug world.

Well, the risk of dying from any cause (“all-cause mortality”) among people who exercise regularly is also cut by 30 percent, actually more like 20-40 percent in most studies and by 50 percent in a few.1 In other words, free and simple exercise is just as potent, and sometimes more potent, than are many of these expensive medications.

Please understand that control of chronic diseases and prevention of death are two different things, so I’m not advocating you substitute exercise for any medications you may need. What I am saying is that if drug companies could bottle regular exercise, they’d be all over it, their television ads would be incessant, and they’d charge big bucks for it!

The studies that have demonstrated the potency of exercise are observational studies where researchers take groups of people (some who exercise a lot, some who exercise a little, and some who exercise not at all) and follow them over time. These studies go on for anywhere from 5 to 25 years and during that time, the researchers observe to see how many study subjects die, how many have strokes or heart attacks, how many get diabetes, how many get cancer, etc.

Observational studies are not as definitive as randomized, controlled trials; observational studies cannot prove that one thing causes another. Well-done randomized, controlled trials have the power to prove causation but observational studies do not; they can only observe that people who exercise regularly live longer. However, the observational data for exercise is so consistent over so many studies that it’s highly likely exercise plays a major role in preventing death.

Read other entries in this seriesDownload a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.


[1] Kodama S, Saito K, Tanaka S, et al. Cardiorespiratory Fitness as a Quantitative Predictor of All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events in Healthy Men and Women. JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) 2009; 301:2024.

Aug 052014

Unhealthy lifestyles have brought on a social epidemic of “diabesity,” says author Mark Hyman, and community-driven solutions may be the only way out. Hyman presented this TED Talk in 2012.

Thanks to Wellness 50+ Oakdale team member, Mark Rubbert, for bringing it to our attention. The goals of VAN’s Wellness 50+ program are similar to those of  The Daniel Plan described in the video. The program teaches self-care and encourages community support for health. Take a look at the video. Continue reading »

Jun 052014

A number of Evolve participants have brought excellent articles and talks to our attention over the past few weeks and we want to share them with you.

Living on Purpose

Paula Span in The New Old Age blog, The New York Times

It turns out that purpose is, on many counts, a good thing to have, long associated with satisfaction and happiness, better physical functioning, even better sleep. “It’s a very robust predictor of health and wellness in old age,” said Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. One comment on the article notes, “In retirement, keeping busy is no problem, but feeling like my existence matters is a huge problem.” Recommended by Connie Bowen. Read the Article.

The Tribes We Lead

TED Talk by Seth Godin filmed February 2009

Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so. Recommended by Heidi Ryan. Listen to the talk.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

TED Talk by Brené Brown filmed June 2010

Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share. Recommended by Sheryl Furness.

Rethinking the Traditional Retirement Community

Stanley Luxenberg, May 30, 2014, The New York Times

People are exploring all sorts of living options as they move from full-time work to retirement. Recommended by Bill Read.  Read the article.

Apr 142014

John-Gardner_Marc-FreedmanMarc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, wrote this tribute to John Gardner for the Wall Street Journal, published on April 4, 2014. Last year was the centennial of Gardner’s birth. As participants in the Evolve class know, the Vital Aging Network shares Freedman’s view that John Gardner was a visionary and remarkable role model for civic leadership throughout life.

According to Gardner: “All my feelings about the release of human possibilities, all of my convictions about renewal are offended by the widely shared cultural assumption that life levels off in one’s 40s and 50s and heads downhill, so that by 65 you are scrap heap material.” Read the Gardner article in the Wall Street Journal.

Jan 202014

Great article about Evolve grad, Chris Wilson, in the Star News. According to the article: “Lifelong artist Chris Wilson of Otsego was in her 50′s when she discovered the ancient style of Sumi-e that she’s made her own for the past 15 years or so.” Her work is part of a show at the Sherburne County Government Center featuring Sumi-e artists (visit mingchiaosumie.org.) Read the article.

Continue reading »

Dec 312013

Article by Lulu Miller, December 31, 2013, NPR News.

Ticktock. Ticktock. Ticktock. The seconds left in 2013 are slipping away. And you know what else is slipping away? The seconds left in your life.

Luckily for you, there’s a new product called Tikker, a wristwatch that counts down your life, so you can watch on a large, dot-matrix display as the seconds you have left on Earth disappear down a black hole. . . .

And, it turns out, there is some evidence for [this] point of view. A 2009 study showed that thinking about death makes you savor life more. . . . But that’s not the whole story . . .”  Read the article.

Dec 082013

I have started this post as a place for Evolve participants and friends of Evolve to post recommendations for books, articles and videos.

To get us started, here is a recommendation from Kale Hedstrom, a member of the current Evolve for Wellness class in the Hamline Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul: Continue reading »

Dec 082013

The Atlantic, Eric Liu, May 11, 2012. Liu is a correspondent for The Atlantic and co-author of The Gardens of Democracy.

In this article, Liu implores individuals to exercise their “citizen muscles.” According to Liu, “The work of democratic life — solving shared problems, shaping plans, pushing for change, making grievances heard — has become ever more professionalized over the last generation. . . . [I] f we make the little shifts in mindset and habit to reclaim civic life, they will compound into contagion. We are the renewal of self-government we yearn for.”  Read the article.

Dec 082013

Continuing the conversation from the December 7, 2013, EvolvingConnections Salon on Re-imagining the Holidays. Thanks to Kathy Ramundt, Evolve grad and Vital Aging Network Leadership Group member, for leading the salon discussion.

Salon participants shared their experiences of past holidays and ideas for making holidays more fulfilling. Here is some of what they said:

  • One individual spoke about wanting to change her experience of family gatherings that lack authentic connection and feel soulless. She made a courageous decision this year to forego a gathering rather than participate in something that is sure to be painful, even though her husband and son will attend.

Continue reading »

Nov 092013

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work. the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handling it over to future generations.

–George Bernard Shaw
Brought to the Evolve class’s attention by Jan Fillmore

The Evolve Roseville class did an outstanding job of visualizing leadership at the November 8 class. After each drew his or her own image, they worked together in groups to create these composite images:

Leadership drawing 2013-1

Leadership drawing 2





Oct 122013


This year’s Evolve class is filled with impressive individuals with diverse experiences and tremendous potential.

We are looking forward to getting to know them and seeing the creative ways that they will find to engage with each other and the greater Vital Aging Network. We have already heard some of their initial ideas about how they might contribute in their communities and there is much more to come. Keep your eye out for stories and updates as the class progresses.

Plan to stop by at Axel’s Charhouse in Roseville for the EvolvingConnections Happy Hour on October 22, 5:00 to 7:00, to meet members of the new class. RSVP now.


Sep 232013

Thank you to Kathy Ahlers and Kathy Ramundt for releasing the first of several videos they are producing of Evolve grads talking about their experience. And thanks to Cathy Lue and Miriam Carter for sharing their stories. Visit evolveleaders.org to view the video. Share the videos with others who might be interested in Evolve and add your comments here.

Aug 182013

Have a point of view: MetacoolIn this post from the blog Metacool: thoughts on the art & science of bringing cool stuff to life, Diego Rodriguez writes that “if you don’t have a firm point of view about what matters, your changes of doing something remarkable drop to zero.”

Diego is a partner at IDEO, a founding professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (the d.school), and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School. He  is committed to helping grow future innovators. At the Stanford d.school, Diego created a new paradigm for active learning with his class Creating Infectious Action, in which business, engineering, and social science students use design thinking to prototype viral offerings and services. Read the blog.

Jul 252013

by Kirk Semple, New York Times, July 25, 2013.

Several Evolve grads have worked on or are interested in the difficulties that come with aging in a new world away from your familiar language and ways. This article addresses immigrants in New York but is equally applicable to immigrant communities such as the Hmong, Oromo and Somali in Minnesota.


Jul 132013

While homelessness has decreased nationwide since 2009, it has increased by 6 percent in Minnesota. The increase is particularly high in greater Minnesota. In this article, Ed Murphy, executive director of Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless, suggests a role for the philanthropic community, government and the private sector. He makes a strong case for retirees, particularly those with retirement homes in smaller Minnesota communities, to consider volunteering to help ensure safe shelter for all Minnesotans when they need it. Read the article: www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/215319091.html

Jun 152013

Evolve participants ask the questions who what where when howNine people attended the “Ongoing Evolve/ALVA Networking Group” meeting on June 14. (Plus Julie for a few moments–thank you so much for bringing the coffeepot and making the coffee!! oh, and for bringing the Evolve brochures, too…and thanks to Kathy Ramundt for assistance in cleaning up afterward, among other things.)

Despite the speaker not showing up (one person hoped aloud that he hadn’t died; I’m hopeful about that, too….e-mailed but haven’t heard yet what happened), we turned lemons to lemonade, getting an update on the group of four from our Evolve class who worked together on a project relating to how to have conversations with adult children about end-of-life choices. Had a lively and heart-felt discussion that involved all who attended. Also did a little resource sharing with the two new people who were there who have “social enterprise” business ideas and may be interested in Evolve; Julie did a quick promo about Evolve to them.

The group brainstormed themes for future meetings, settling on “Using Pinterest for your nonprofit project or business” for the July 12th meeting (9:30-11:30 am at Wilder Center). Note: Pinterest is now the third most popular social media site, after Facebook and Twitter. We each are going to make a basic Pinterest account before the next meeting so we have a little sense of what’s involved.

Kathy Ramundt also took some video that might be useful in an Evolve promo piece, and yes, we did get a model release from the person she recorded. This effort is ongoing.

If anyone would like to present at a meeting an overview and update on their Evolve project (if it’s an ongoing venture that you continue to be involved with), and/or to “use” this group for feedback and ideas on that or another topic or project potentially of interest to attendees, please let me know and we can talk about it and possibly schedule you for a particular date. The loose structure would allow a half hour to forty-five minutes for presentation plus Q&A.

Question: is there a brochure for that three-session discussion series that came from the Aging with Gusto pilot program? If any of us notice a place that might like to run that, we could be spreading the word, and it would be great to have something to hand them. I’m assuming there’s a fee to the sponsoring agency, or the attending people, which helps support VAN operations.

Thank you for your interest and support!
Kathy Ahlers