Michelle Portalatin (my amazing trainer) adopted me at my gym, when I was fairly new to regularly exercising, well over 15 years ago. I had always been a sporadic exerciser until I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis at the age of 47. That is when I started weight lifting to strengthen my bones. Michelle approached me while I was exercising on the leg press and “taking too long a break between sets”. I hired her to train me one on one.
Michelle spent her early adult years in the corporate world which she did not find fulfilling. From a young age she enjoyed being active and struggled with her weight. She found exercise was a great way to manage her weight, relieve the stress of going to college and working full time and build self- confidence. She had thought of becoming a personal trainer while at Hofstra University but her mother discouraged her, thinking it was not a viable career option.
Her passion eventually drew her in, so while working in the corporate world, she got her first certification and started working as a trainer part time. After one year, she was able to leave the corporate world and became a personal trainer full time. She now has 13 certifications and a successful practice as a Personal Trainer/Strength, Running and Triathlon Coach.
Michelle also continued to focus on her personal goals as an athlete. As a child, she loved Shotokan Karate. In college, her focus was on strength training and running. In her twenties she started cycling. To date, she has run 8 marathons, 17 triathlons and 5 Ironman. I remember her words to me after her first Ironman – “I will never do this again.” and yet, she did. Recently, Michelle added skiing to her repertoire. She believes variety in exercise is very important. New goals and experiences keep the excitement and enjoyment in being active going.
Michelle’s client’s range in age from 8 years old to 80 years old. Most are above 50. She enjoys working with a broad range of ages and individuals. She says many of her older clients are more fit than her younger clients. We spoke about how important strength training is to hold Osteoporosis at bay and even reverse it. My bone density has been stable for over 20 years with no medication.
Michelle confirmed what I already know – it is crucial that we combine strength training along with cardio as we get older. WHY? As we get older the body undergoes less hormone production, slower metabolism, decrease in muscle mass and bone composition changes. We do not have the same advantages we had when we were younger. It is necessary to dedicate some time and energy to the right kind of exercise. It is not enough to say – “Well, I walk a lot.” Many older people deal with chronic pain in joints from carrying extra weight with less muscle mass and strength, heart disease, diabetes and thyroid issues. With a healthy diet, exercise and stress relieving practices, we can age in a healthy way. Michelle refers to exercise as THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH! I agree.
I asked Michelle what she recommends in terms of an exercise program. She believes some degree of walking every day is important and a minimum of weight lifting twice per week along with a focus on strengthening the core (all the muscles that attach at your pelvis, not just the abs). Balance exercises are also very important as many time older people fall and break bones. Exercise is also very beneficial to the brain as the brain is stimulated BY exercise.
We also spoke about how common dehydration is in all people and often especially older people. Michelle drinks water first thing in the morning, before every meal, before and after her workouts and every one-two hours during the day. Hydration needs vary per individual based upon, metabolism, exercise volume, sweat rate, weather and diet. She advises her clients to monitor the color of their urine. Aim to have a very light yellow/straw like color for optimal hydration.
Michelle works with everyone in a customized way with every new client filling out a health and fitness questionnaire and completing a physical assessment. She fine tunes as she works with each individual client depending upon their changing needs. Sometimes due to an injury or illness, a client has to take a break. I asked Michelle how long it took to start losing muscle mass. She explained it takes 2 weeks to start losing cardiovascular fitness, 2-3 weeks to start losing muscle mass and 3-5 weeks to start losing strength when you stop exercising completely.
How quickly an individual will regain their fitness levels depends on how long they were exercising consistently before the break and the length of the break. Muscles have memory so the longer an individual has been exercising regularly the quicker they will bounce back. The best defense for this predicament is to reduce the volume or intensity of their workouts, find an alternative they can do while they recover and get back to their workouts as soon as possible.
Oftentimes people do not want to start an exercise program out of fear, thinking they are too old, too overweight, fear of getting hurt, lack of motivation, etc. Michelle’s advice is to find an activity you like to do and keep doing it. Enjoyment and comfort are important for most people to maintain consistency. So, whether it is walking, running, dancing, hiking, swimming, cycling, online classes, the goal is to keep moving. Once you become comfortable with moving consistently you can start exploring other activities. One of Michelle’s passions around exercise is the benefit on one’s mental health. The chemical reactions that occur in the brain, release of dopamine and endorphins, reduces anxiety and depression, and provides a coping mechanism to relieve stress which are more good reasons to start an exercise program. I know personally how much better I feel after some form of exercise.
I learned the benefits of exercise later in life and at the age of sixty-eight I feel strong and fit. It is never too late to start. Exercise is something we all can and should do. Our bodies are amazingly complex and beautiful machines. They do get older and with loving care through exercise, hydration, a healthy diet and sense of purpose in our life, we can grow old gracefully and in good health. Things happen but how we treat ourselves does matter. Strength and health (on all levels) better equips us to face life’s challenges with a tenacious and resilient attitude and assists us in persevering through the inevitable ups and downs.
To reach Michelle:
2002 ACE (American Council on Exercise) Certified Personal Trainer
2004 AFAA (Aerobics & Fitness Association of America) Group Exercise Instructor
2005 AAAI/ISMA (American Aerobic Association International & International Sports Medicine Association) Pre-Post Natal Certification
2006 ISCA (International Sports Conditioning Association) Kickboxing Certification
2006 Spinning Certified Instructor
2007 NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer
2012 EBFA (Evidence Based Fitness Academy) Barefoot Training Specialist
2013 RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) Certified Adult Distance Running Coach
2013 IKSFA (International Kettlebell Sport & Fitness Academy) Kettlebell Sport Coach
2014 USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach
2014 NSCA-CSCS (National Strength & Conditioning Association-Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist)
2015 ITCA (International Triathlon Coaching Association) Certified Triathlon Coach
2016 USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach