“To me, it seemed like most of the people inside were cyclists and marathoners, six-feet tall with 145 pounds of all muscle, where if any of them gains one-tenth of a percent of body fat they go to confession,” Axelrod says. “That’s not me – I’m an old fart.”
Despite that cursory observation, the 78-year-old Axelrod was on a bit of a mission. He’d been battling osteoarthritis in recent years, and while his doctor had encouraged him to see a physical therapist and get into an exercise program, doing so without a specific regimen – and while managing the near-constant pain in his knees, shoulders and wrists – seemed daunting. Axelrod needed a plan.
So he popped into Endurance one day and asked managing partner and physiologist Tim Fleming, “Do you handle any old, flabby, ancient, over-the-hill grandparents?”
They did indeed. Despite its well-earned reputation as a hub for serious cyclists, Endurance has long been home to a wide range of people in terms of demographics and fitness levels. Several years ago, Marin resident, philanthropist and Blue Planet founder Jin Zidell asked Fleming to help him shape up to participate in a relay in the Race Across America, an ultramarathon bike race across 3,000 miles, 12 states and over 170,000 vertical feet. With Endurance’s help, he did just that in 2012 – at the age of 74.
Fleming walked Axelrod through Endurance’s exercise testing and nutrition program for general wellness. The program is a notch below Endurance’s Metabolic Efficiency Training Program, geared to athletes who are hooked up to equipment that generates data like maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 Max), which is used to determine a client’s “maximal fat burning zone.”
The general wellness program is a nine-week program that starts with a bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), a machine that estimates a person’s body composition, and body fat in particular. Using those body fat and total total body water estimates, Fleming sets a baseline to track adaptations to a client’s exercise regimen.
“I’ve done testing on everyone from Tour de France caliber cyclists down to older folks who just want to get moving again – it’s a science-driven process,” Fleming says, noting that the process follows the “measure-apply-measure” approach that allows clients to see the progress.
All that data – Fleming emphasizes the program is “an evidence-based prescription” – is the foundation for a right-sized exercise and nutrition program that helps the body increase metabolism and thus “decreased body fat mass and long-term sustainable and exercise habits.”
“It gets away from that stereotypical American response of, ‘I have to exercise, so let me suffer through this,’” Fleming says. “Mike (Axelrod) hadn’t exercised in years, so he wasn’t ready to dive into interval training.”
The program had Axelrod do exercises to rebuild his strength – grow muscle and lean fat. With the help of an exercise physiologist, Axelrod put in the time over the course of nine weeks. He also consulted with Connor Spencer, Endurance’s in-house nutrition consultant, who helped Axelrod develop a weekly meal plan that reduced his pasta consumption and had him eating breakfasts like greek yogurt with honey, blueberries and pistachios.
“It enormously changed my whole body structure,” says Axelrod. “I have been able to do things I was never able to do before because of this program. My upper and lower body strength has changed tremendously – I was having a hard time lifting a cup of coffee a few months ago – and now I’m playing golf again.”
Fleming lauds Axelrod’s efforts over the past two months, saying it’s evidence “that if we can keep moving, we don’t have to accept decrepitude as we age.”
“I feel like a different person,” Axelrod adds. “With my wife of 55 years and my kids and grandkids, I have every incentive to stay in good shape. As Carl Reiner once said, if you get up in the morning and you’re not in the obituaries, go eat breakfast.”