50+ Brain and Body Fitness

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By Frank M. Samson on March 16, 2015

The following is an edited transcription from the Aging Boomers podcast with “Act!vate Brain & Body” founder Martin Pazzani.

Frank: Welcome to the Aging Boomers. I'm your host, Frank Samson. On this show we discuss many of the issues facing boomers, their parents and what we know is an aging population. We've got a great guest on. I mean, if you're interested at all in fitness, and think we all are, we've got a great option coming up for you and someone I'm thrilled to be talking with.

His name is Martin Pazzani. Martin Pazzani is a corporate executive turned entrepreneurial CEO who is in process of re-engineering the fitness business as upstream preventive healthcare for ages 50+. He's a skilled and seasoned leader of consumer lifestyle brands and start-ups with diverse category and functional experience on six continents. An unconventional thinker adept at solving complex business challenges and driving profitable growth, Martin has held senior roles in major corporations and ad agencies including Bally Total Fitness / Crunch, Diageo, Foote Cone & Belding, DDB Needham, and Elias Arts. His expertise is marketing, competitive strategy, and the baby boomer consumer.

Martin has been a speaker, panelist, and seminar leader around the world and is a published thought leader on branding, advertising, strategy, and music. He is currently the Founder of Activate Brain & Body, a revolutionary approach to fitness for the baby boomer generation that is focused on radically improving the trajectory of aging to enable people to live happier, healthier, and longer lives.

Martin, thank you so much for joining us on the Aging Boomers. We really appreciate it.

Martin: Thanks, Frank. It's great to be here with you.

Frank: I'm always interested to learn about people who’ve been in the corporate world and then go and set up their own company, certainly in an entrepreneurial way. I'm always interested in what led you in that direction.

Martin: Well, you know Frank, like many in my situation, you at some point come to the conclusion that maybe you can do better in a different kind of environment. Maybe you can do something more meaningful than be a cog in a very large corporate system. It's also true that big corporations tend to have a certain momentum and it's hard for them to change on a dime and so if you want to accomplish something truly revolutionary, it's hard to do that within the context of a big company.

I'm hardly alone in this. We're seeing vast amounts of boomers get interested in their own companies and doing startups. It's almost an epidemic. People think of startups as the province of the youth, but the numbers will show that it's actually the boomer generation that's doing a lot of startups because you want to make a difference.

Frank: What's happened in the past? I know you have a tremendous amount of experience in the fitness business. What happened that you saw this opportunity, and explain your business to our listeners.

Martin: The idea for Activate Brand and Body came from doing a lot of research and a lot of club visits and a lot of thinking about the traditional fitness business that began when I was the Chief Marketing Officer at Bally and Crunch, two once-leading companies with millions of members and 500 locations. I was charged with building the business, growing membership and so we obviously researched the consumer. The first thing I noticed that was rather compelling was how many people were not served by the traditional fitness business. I quickly thought, "Ha, rather than get into a market share fight with the other fitness companies, might it be easier to attract people to the fitness business who were not already part of it, which is the vast majority of people."

How do you motivate them to join? That's what I've been focusing on for the last 10 years is how to motivate the people who would never in the past have thought about engaging with the fitness business or joining a fitness club.

Frank: I went to work out this morning, and knowing that I was going to be interviewing you today, I took a look around at the age group of [members]. I'm not a young guy, but I'm not too old yet either, and I was the old man there. I really was, and I guess you're seeing that, correct?

Martin: The numbers are really clear and almost startling. Membership in organized fitness plummets at about age 50. It goes down to under 10% of the population, from somewhere around 30%. Clearly something is happening and I think the mainstream fitness business thinks, "Oh that's just the way it is because people slow down, they don't want to work out in a fitness club anymore and it's an inevitable thing." I take the other perspective, I think they get disillusioned with the youth-oriented fitness business and how it doesn't serve them properly, and so they get frustrated or stressed or find that they're paying money for something that's not helping, so they look for other alternatives.

They leave [organized] fitness and they try to do it themselves, which is a separate issue that's a problem. They try to do home programs, also hard to do, but there's clearly this gigantic opportunity. People above 50 are looking for a way to get fit, and not finding easy solutions. Now there are a few companies springing up to do that. I mean a market that large is not going to be missed be everybody, but the mainstream fitness business remains very youth-focused. It has been for many, many years.

Frank: When I worked out, when I was in my 20s and 30s, the workout itself was a lot different than what I'm able to do or should be doing today. Do you think trainers that work with 50-plus people know that maybe it has to be done a little differently?

Martin: Increasingly, trainers are getting it. Trainers, personal trainers, for me, tend to be one of the things that have made the business too youth-focused. In fact, I think many of them are unqualified to be trainers, and frankly, that's one of the reasons people leave clubs is when a trainer's job is more about selling you personal training than actually getting you fit, and there's a huge distinction; it sours the business model and it sours the customer relationship.

Most trainers are actually salespeople and I think that needs to be fixed. It's just one of the things that we look at and I think we have a solution for it. There are also a number of interesting organizations popping up, and the one that we work with and partner with and frankly, two of the founders are on our board, is the Functional Aging Institute. Cody Sipe and Dan Ritchie, two Ph.Ds in Kinesiology, have created a certification for people to learn how to train people above age 50, and it's a totally different approach to training.

Goals and needs are different, the kinds of exercises are different. Obviously, the customer's different and it's a totally different philosophy to personal training, focused on results.

Frank: It's called Activate Brain and Body Fitness. Tell me how exercising the brain and exercising the body are interconnected.

Martin: Yeah, this is kind of an interesting revolution. It stems back to research by a fellow named Gage, Fred Gage, a Ph.D who's been publishing papers, and he discovered that unlike what was always believed -- you are born with a certain number of brain cells and that's it -- he discovered that you can build new brain cells at virtually any age. That's called neurogenesis. When you study how neurogenesis occurs, you see that it is very interconnected with fitness, so you really can't separate the brain the body. Take the old adage in sports coaching, muscle memory, when you learn a complicated sports motion like hitting a baseball or skiing, it's really brain memory that is causing that. It's neural pathways that are formed through rehearsing activities.

The brain controls the body. We've learned that because you can trigger neurogenesis. With an aging population, if you put the brain first, it totally changes your outlook. If all the exercises and all the workouts are focused on building brain health, the body comes along for the ride because they're interconnected. BDNF is a hormone in your blood that is caused by exercise. The more BDNF you build, the greater the chance you're going to be able to create new brain cells. BDNF is triggered by exercise. Certain types of duration and intensity of exercise will maximize the creation of BDNF. It stands for brain-derived neurotropic factor.

There are techniques that we're experimenting with -- and this is very leading edge -- to maximize the creation of BDNF through physical exercise. The theory is, if you do some of these things, you can activate your brain and activate your body at the same time.

Frank: What suggestions can you give people? We're on information overload,. A study will come out and say it’s better to walk, no it’s better to run, no do the bicycle, no you should do weights. We get hit with all these different theories. What suggestions do you have for people that are getting along and getting frustrated?

Martin: There's a lot of information out there and it's really daunting for most people to sift through it and find out what's not only best but what's best for them because it varies. Everybody has a different body and a different situation, different goal, so it's hard to give general information. That’s why our approach is everything we do is based on a personal assessment with a coach, and your coach is responsible for customizing a workout for your brain and body that is right for you, not a generic workout. Some people may have a different physiology. Some people are slim, and that requires a different kind of a workout than a person who's a bit overweight and inactive.

You have to customize it for the person, but let me give you the most general advice I can give that's common across everything, and that is you’ve got to stay active. Get off the couch, turn off the television and walk. That's the most basic thing to do. If most of America would walk at a brisk pace 20 to 30 minutes a day, the general effect on the population itself will be profound. It's all about staying active.

Frank: What about lifting weights? I'm talking free weights. Is that something that at age 50 is a good thing to be doing, not a good thing, what are your thoughts?

Martin: It's a complex question. The free weights and the mentality of [weight lifting] started out decades ago. Pumping iron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Muscle Beach mentality. That's what people have in their heads when they think of traditional gyms. I did a lot of research on how to attract people to a gym and in the course of doing that, we learned that . . . it's possible that the Arnold Schwarzenegger image had done more to send people away from the fitness business than to attract them to it.

People cannot necessarily connect with that overdeveloped Mr. Universe body style, and it sends out a message to people that you won't be comfortable in this place unless that's your goal or unless you look like that. In fact, one of the things that kept coming back in research is, “I have to get fit before I join the club, because if I go in there, I'll be either embarrassed or humiliated by not being fit.” That kept a lot of people away.

That's just a general thing. Now you asked about weightlifting. We think resistance training is very important, but it doesn't have to be that kind of weightlifting. There are new kinds of equipment that are safer for older bodies that provide nearly the same kind of intense workout as lifting free weights. Again, resistance training is where it's at. How you get to that is a different thing. The reason that's important is being stronger is always better. People who have never done resistance training can show very rapid increases in strength and balance and reaction time by adding resistance training to their workout. That's a really good thing for a couple of reasons. One is it makes you more resistant to falls and one of the biggest maladies of older people is falling and breaking a hip, but if you've maintained core strength and leg strength, your balance is better and if you fall, your muscles will protect you more than if you're not strong. It's really important for people to train for strength at any age. It makes you much more resistant to injury and a much healthier person.

Frank: Sounds like what you're saying is it's never too late.

Martin: Never too late. There's research that shows even in your late 80s, if you begin resistance training, you'll have rapid advances and you'll be healthier for it.

Frank: Tell us about your concept. Are you setting up clubs? Has that started?

Martin: We built a trial club within a club in Philadelphia a couple of years ago to learn how to do this, and we created -- let's call it an algorithm. It's a process of physical exercise, brain exercise, stress reduction and diet that interacts in a way to create better health for people above 50. We first envisioned this being 100% bricks and mortar in a series of fitness clubs, and we still envision that because a community center, a place where people can go that is specifically designed for them, is a very important component in this. However, with rapid advances in technology, there's this thing called telemedicine. We call it tele-fitness, where a doctor on one end and a client on the other end can interact without going to the office.

Light bulbs went on for us when we saw these telemedicine concepts being developed because that meant we did not have to be downed by having bricks and mortar locations. We could technically have a trainer in California interacting with a client in India. We saw that as a bigger opportunity and we've been retooling the company to do this cyber-fitness model. We call it a fitness club in the cloud, first, and we're preparing to launch that this summer.

It's basically a fitness program with a coach and a client delivered globally through remote personal coaching. It's much like Skype. You Skype with your coach. Your coach interacts with you, creates a program using the technology, and monitors your progress. You create a relationship over cyberspace with the coach.

Frank: That's fantastic. It's really making use of the technology. When I work out, I have a trainer and he shows me a certain exercise to do and if I'm not doing it exactly right, he could point that out to me. How do you see that working in this case?

Martin: Yeah, nothing's going to substitute from being right next to your coach in the same room but we think we can get about 90% of the effectiveness at a much lower cost through Skype. You're literally looking at someone through Skype so the coach can provide significant amounts of coaching and observation to the member, and in our trial programs, it works really well. Again, we aspire to bricks and mortar clubs once we get the cyber-fitness model moving, but for the time being, we think we can reach more people and learn more about this by using the tele-fitness model.

We've done a bunch of trial programs. We've been collecting data. As much as anything, we see ourselves as playing an important role in collecting data because there really is no robust data on the way brain and body exercise affects longevity, affects your ability to work longer, your heart rate. There's a bunch of biometrics, there are system measures. Our members all use wearables. Every workout is tracked and collecting that data we think is going to be a very valuable source of research about how to enhance the process to make it more effective as we go down the road.

Frank: I want to be your first client in California, okay?

Martin: You got it.

Frank: If it's okay, maybe we could get into a couple of specifics. We have just a few minutes left, but first I want to make sure you share with people where they could learn more about your program and your concept and your business. And maybe you could describe some of the exercises that help to build brain and body fitness. Any suggestions?

Martin: Well again, it's real hard to come up with general advice because everybody's different . . . but I would say the 20-minute brisk walk is the foundation of it all.

Frank: Okay, got it.

Martin: Stairs are good and frankly, we haven't really talked about the brain exercise piece of things but there are a lot of techniques that help keep your brain active. Some of them are basic games. Some of them are integrated into fitness equipment like the thing called the CyberCycle, which is one of my favorite new pieces of equipment. It's a bike created by International Interactive Fitness Holdings that you ride, so you're basically riding through a video game and controlling it and you're using brain and body at the same time.

There's a device called the Dynavision, which gives you reaction training which works your brain while you're moving. The basic part about brain exercise is you have to keep learning. It's not about playing a computer game. It's about pushing your brain the way you would push a muscle to keep learning and doing new things.

For instance, one of the best things you could do for your brain is learn to play a musical instrument or learn a second language, because what that does is that rearranges the brain cells. It creates neural pathways, and combining that with BDNF flowing through your brain, you have a pretty good chance of refreshing your brain with some new brain cells. You have to work your brain. It's not just doing a crossword puzzle. You really have to push it and . . . if you do the right kinds of brain and body exercise together under the guidance of a coach, we think it has profound effects on your life span.

Since you asked, we're mostly on Facebook right now, at Activate Brain and Body. We have not launched our interactive service yet, but there's lots of information about all kinds of workouts, all kinds of brain exercises on our Facebook page and that would be a good place to go if you are at some point of thinking about wanting to be part of what we're doing.

Frank: Go to Facebook, just search for Activate Brain and Body, right?

Martin: Activate Brain and Body, you'll get there.

Frank: Perfect, well listen, Martin Pazzani, thank you so much for joining us on The Aging Boomers. It's been enlightening and we're glad to have you back and keep us up to date on the progress. We really appreciate you taking the time.

Martin: Thank you so much, Frank. Anytime, my pleasure.

Frank: I want to thank everybody out there for joining us of course and get the word out on the Aging Boomers. Share with friends and family and be safe out there and we'll talk to you all soon.

 I want to thank everybody out there for joining us of course and get the word out on the Aging Boomers. Share with friends and family and be safe out there and we'll talk to you all soon.