Battling the Bingo Wing Effect

Boy, did I have a good laugh when my friend Wendy referred to her upper-arm flab as "bingo wings." The description conjured up images of my aunts who hit the church bingo halls for a night out with the gals. Then one day, I realized that "bingo wings" were more than just a fun reminiscence. A few of my favorite vintage blouses were suddenly tight through the arms. Huh? No way could these shirts have shrunk: I take TLC of my prized vintage clothes and never put them (or most clothes) in the dryer.

Had I sprouted upper arm flab? In my '40s? Despite of being the exact same weight I was 20 years ago? Um, BINGO! So I asked Dr. Larry Silber, a Bellevue, Washington-area chiropractor/nutritionist, what was going on. "We have a higher percentage of muscle when we're younger," he said. "But as we age, we can lose 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade and 1 to 2 percent per year after age 50. It happens even quicker if you're sedentary. Less muscle also means lower metabolism, which means excess calories go to fat."

This news almost drove me to a pint of ice cream, but Larry quickly assured me that there's still hope. "It's possible to regain lost muscle with regular strength training," he said. But before you grab your weights, there's just one more bit of (sorta) bad news: spot toning won't blast away upper-arm fat. "It's possible to tone the muscles of the arm [the biceps, triceps, shoulder muscles], but it won't get rid of the fat," Larry says. "The only way to get rid of the fat is the two-pronged approach of exercise for fat-burning and proper nutrition."

Fat-burning exercise means you've got to move it all over. Larry likes interval training where the pace is varied. "Instead of spending 45 minutes on the treadmill watching TV," he said, "you warm up, get your heart rate going quickly to where you are breathing heavily and sweating for one minute and then rest until your heart rate comes back to normal. Then repeat that cycle for 20 minutes. This type of cardio exercise has been shown to be much more effective for fat loss and cardio health." Two great exercises that don't even require weights are push-ups.

One aerobics teacher had me doing interval training where the class would run around the gym and when she'd blow a whistle, we'd stop and do push-ups against the wall. I couldn't do one straight-legged, military-style push-up if my life depended on it, so I'm a big fan of wall push-ups and the bent-knee variety. Another triceps exercise that doesn't involve any equipment are triceps dips. "Sit on the floor with your arms behind you, palms facing down, fingers towards your behind with knees bent slightly," Larry says. "Then lift your bottom off the ground and bend your elbows until your bottom touches the ground and repeat."

Along with increasing the cardio exercise and adding strength training, doing a quick and realistic check of the ol' diet is in order. Larry is a nutritionist and he recommends smart sources of protein, lots of veggies, minimal fruit, and a sprinkling of seeds and nuts. Sugar, alcohol, and refined carbs are complete no-nos. Sigh. But I'm determined to get my arms back into those vintage blouses and into Michelle Obama-shape.

"You can reduce fat, firm up those sagging arms and get all the other health benefits that come from good nutrition and exercise at any age. Get started today!" Larry says. He ads,"Make sure you consult a fitness trainer if you're a beginner." OK, middle age: game on. I'll let you know how the Battle of the Bingo Wings turns out.