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Living Well

Health and wellness tips from Indiana University

Living Well for September discusses the following topics:

Poor vision benching athletes
Energy and independence -- baby boomers and strength training
Lonely Americans and the "iPod effect"
Steroid use stunting adolescent growth

Sitting on the bench? Have an eye exam. Indiana University Professor of Optometry Steve Hitzeman has seen a consistent pattern when conducting vision evaluations on sports teams: "I can usually pick out the best athlete without ever seeing the team play. The best athlete is almost always the one with the best vision." Hitzeman, who works with IU athletic teams and the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics, said that vision becomes a limiting factor in sports performance after adolescence. "Younger athletes can excel because of their physical fitness, but after a certain point, athletic ability becomes tied to seeing and processing what is happening on the playing field," he said. Sharpness of focus is not the only factor in seeing well; peripheral vision, depth perception and use of the eye muscles to shift attention rapidly are also critical in sports performance. Close to 40 percent of the athletes Hitzeman screens have never had an eye exam, and nearly all of them can improve their vision in some way, he said. In addition to prescribing corrective lenses, Hitzeman runs training programs that include exercises to improve hand-eye coordination and visual reaction time. His top tip for improving your competitive advantage: "Learn to juggle." Once your visual motor system is accustomed to keeping several balls in the air at once, hitting one with a tennis racket won't seem so difficult, he said.

Hitzeman is the director of the Sports Vision Program at Indiana University. He can be reached at 812-855-4979 and Top

Exercise image

Personal trainer Robbin Hays uses a resistance band to strengthen her biceps.

Investing in energy and independence -- baby boomers and strength training. Baby boomers are considered the first real exercise generation, said Indiana University fitness expert Bryan Stednitz. They are the first generation to want to continue its fitness activities into and beyond middle age. For many, however, and particularly women, strength training has not been a part of their fitness repertoire, despite such benefits as increased energy, stronger bones, muscles and tendons, and improved posture and balance -- all of which are critical for a high quality of life and independence later in life. "It's like your 401K, the people who invest early will have more fun later in life," said Carol Kennedy, a lecturer in IU Bloomington's Department of Kinesiology. Kennedy also teaches a popular strengthening class for faculty and staff. The good news, said Kennedy and Stednitz, who is assistant director of fitness and wellness for IUB's Division of Recreational Sports, is that it's never too late to start. "Muscles know no age," is one of Kennedy's favorite sayings. She and Stednitz say people can begin feeling the benefits of strength training sooner -- within a matter of weeks -- than many other forms of physical activity. "I think energy is the big one," Stednitz said. Strength training has a strong functional element -- it can help people with day-to-day activities, such as lifting objects, standing and sitting. Strength training can mitigate conditions such as osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, joint deterioration, back pain and hypertension, which affect many people as they age.

Exercise image

Hays strengthens her quadriceps using a leg extension machine.

Tips for getting started:

  • Banish the barbell stereotype. Strength training can be done in the gym, at home or just about anywhere with the wide range of gear and strategies available. It can involve weight machines, free weights, stretchy bands and tubes (ideal for travel) or body weight, used during such moves as lunges, pushups, squats and leg lifts.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends working each major muscle group at least twice a week. Kennedy, who leads her class twice a week, said this means at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions for each major muscle group (chest, abdominal, shoulder, upper back, lower back, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstring and gluteus muscles). People over 50 should complete 12-15 repetitions, instead.
  • Stednitz suggests consulting a physician before beginning an exercise program, especially people with known cardiovascular, metabolic or respiratory diseases.
  • Strength training is more complicated than some forms of exercise, such as walking and cycling, so a class or personal trainers can be helpful when starting out. Kennedy recommends hiring a personal trainer for at least six to eight sessions in order to learn a strengthening routine. She suggests hiring trainers who are certified by the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
  • Small group personal training is becoming popular. Kennedy said it costs less for three or four people to go in together to hire a trainer. She recommends group sessions because of the camaraderie and support that can develop and last beyond the sessions.
  • Strength training tears down muscle tissue so it is important to rest a day between lifting a particular muscle group.

Common missteps:

  • Too much, too soon, too quick. Kennedy said strength training can feel easy during the workout but brutal the next day. She suggests that newbies begin with light weights. "If you have pain, there will be no gain," Kennedy said. "If you have pain past 48 hours, you've done more than tear muscles down -- you don't want to do this."
  • Stednitz said people new to strength training often turn a deaf ear to their bodies and instead try to be as active as they were when younger, resulting in excessive aches and pains, or worse, orthopedic injury. Stednitz said orthopedic injuries involving baby boomers have increased exponentially as boomers take their activities or "weekend warrior habits" with them into middle age.
  • When people train too often or too hard, and don't progress more slowly, they often get injured or suffer from burnout and mental blocks that can derail exercise plans, Stednitz said.

Stednitz can be reached at 812-855-7772 and Kennedy can be reached at 812-855-6083 and The Department of Kinesiology and the Division of Recreational Sports are in IUB's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

The "iPod effect" on friendships. Technology and the Internet help people get exactly what they want -- but you can't go online and order a real friend. "When you're sick, you don't want e-mails, you want someone to hold your hand, someone to say, 'Let me get this for you,'" said Bernardo J. Carducci, a psychology professor at Indiana University Southeast and director of the Shyness Research Institute. Americans are struggling more today with feelings of loneliness and a lack of good friends. Carducci said many Americans forget or are unaware that making friends takes time and skills -- conversation skills, negotiation skills and empathy. "A real problem with friendships today is that people demand instant intimacy," he said. "I call it the 'iPod effect.' You can get exactly what you want, when you want it. You can have your life on your terms. You can get people to deliver movies to your home. People deliver a pizza in a half hour. You can buy stuff and have them ship it to you overnight. You can go online and talk to people who have only your same interests. No more dissenting views. You just delete them -- 'electronic cleansing' your own world. The solution is getting out of your own world."

Carducci offers the following tips for developing meaningful friendships:

  • "Get out of yourself." Instead of focusing on your lack of friends and loneliness, get more involved in the lives of others.
  • Volunteering is a great way to make friends. When you show up time and time again, it gives you and the others volunteering a chance to get to know each other in a non-critical way because you're likely more focused on the volunteer activity than each other. If you choose a volunteer activity that draws from your strengths, you'll be less self-conscious, more confident and better able to focus on the needs of other individuals; such individuals will appreciate your skills and concern for others. After a while, your volunteer contacts can evolve into social contacts if you suggest going to a movie or getting coffee after the volunteer activities. Carducci said this is a good way to expand your support network because you can get to know the volunteers better and, eventually, some of their friends and family.
  • Give it some time. It takes time for people to get to know your interests, qualities and how you fit into their lives.
  • Reciprocity -- it's not all about you. "We're so much more in tune to receiving, 'What can you do for me,'" Carducci said. "The core of friendship is, "'What can I do for you.'"
  • Take an interest in people around you. "We're more interested in the lives of celebrities than we are in the lives of our neighbors," Carducci said.
  • Practice making small talk to build conversation skills. "People have this need to be with others, but they don't know how to do it," Carducci said. "They go to Starbucks with their laptops and iPods but expect other people to come to them and get them to log off. We make it really hard."

Carducci can be reached at 812-941-2295 and To learn more about the Shyness Research Institute, visit Top

Bulking up and shrinking down. Steroid use among adolescents can result in permanently stunted stature, said Ruth Gassman, executive director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University. The pressure to perform on the sports field can lead some adolescents to try anabolic steroids, which provide enhanced energy for movement and augment the production of muscle-building proteins. But while the muscles may grow larger, the skeletal structure can halt development in response to steroid use, she said. "Premature closure of the epiphysis, the growing end of the long bones, is seen among adolescents and school age children who abuse steroids," Gassman said. Other side effects of the drug include severe acne, hostility, aggressiveness and nervousness, as well as breast growth among males and increased body hair among females. Long-term effects can include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke. Use of steroids can often be prompted by a desire to achieve an optimal physique within a short period of time, Gassman said. Parents, teachers and coaches can help discourage steroid use by utilizing programs such as the Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids program, which focuses on changing students' attitudes toward performance enhancing drugs. "According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prevention programs that focus on a team approach to addressing proper exercise, nutrition and the harmful effects of steroids can lead to avoidance of these drugs and encourage a realistic approach to athletic goals," she said.

To reach Gassman, contact the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at 812-855-1237 or For more information about anabolic steroids, download the IPRC's Factline brochure from IPRC is a center within the Department of Applied Health Science in IUB's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

For further assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or , or Elisabeth Andrews at 812-855-2153 or .

EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.