FAQ 14 (Scroll didfor all articles)
What's the Best Way to Train?
A: You may be surprised to hear that it depends on you. What type of training do you enjoy and do best?
The first step is to decide where you are on the endurance-strength continuum. Runners challenging the 2 hour marathon are at the extreme endurance end, while powerlifters deadlifting over 1100 pounds are at the extreme strength end. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.
I knew early on that I'm more into strength than endurance. Strength training made me a pretty good high school wrestler who was averse to the coach's insistence that we run at a steady pace around the football practice field. I did the laps, but didn't enjoy it. (Intervals would've been more to my liking.)
My long-time friend Dick Winett is also on the strength side, but we go different ways in training. He's big into Time-Under-Load (TUL) training, which refers to repetition duration, how long it takes to lift and lower a weight. Lifting by the clock is a turn-off for me.
Doing controlled reps with minimum momentum is more my style.
As I wrote earlier, British researchers, led by Professor James P. Fisher, tested the effect of TUL on strength, body composition, muscle size, and fasting blood sugar. They found that repetition duration makes little, if any, difference--so long as you lift to momentary failure. Dick and I both continue lifting until we can't do another rep in good form.
"The main message," Fisher told Washington Post writer Amby Burfoot, "is that resistance training can be relatively simple and still effective. It doesn't have to get complicated by various training methods and protocols." (You'll find more details in our FAQ 13: Why is Strength Training So Complicated?)
That does not mean that either one of us is wrong or right. It means that we are training in the way that suits us best.
I believe that Dick sees TUL as a safer way to train. The poundages used are of necessity less. (He is very strong and susceptible to joint stress and strain.)
We are both successful lifetime trainers. Our way works for us
We now have two more studies--one dealing with strength training and the other high-intensity intervals--driving home the point that best results come from training in the way that works for you.
Lift What Works for You
I found this study in an article by Alex Hutchinson in the October 27, 2020, Sweat Science.
The experts tell us that sets and reps should be specific to the goal: muscle size, strength, power, endurance and so on.
Our friend McMaster University Professor Stuart Phillips was one of the first to challenge this dogma, in a series of studies showing that strength gains were the same for light and heavy weight--as long as you lift to failure. Resistance is your choice, as long as you continue lifting until you max out.
A new study by the Israel Halperin's group at Tel Aviv University and published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance looked at whether perceived effort using 70% or 83% of one-rep maximum can accurately predict failure on a rep-by-rep basis. In short, can they predict coming failure as well with a relatively light weigh as well as with a heavier weight.
I feel confident in saying that I can accurately predict coming failure with light or heavy weights. That's what they found. That ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) on a repetition-by-repetition basis, accurately reflected reaching task failure across loads and conditions. "Hence, RPE can be used to prescribe repetition numbers during ongoing sets."
I've never found it necessary to lift to actual failure.
They idea of lifting until the weight falls away is an unnecessary turn off. Few would train that way for very long.
Even Arthur Jones freely admitted that few people would train as he recommended, without his hobnail boot urging them on. No fool, he would not recommend training that way for the long term.
The bottom line for Alex Hutchinson is to "find what works for you, and keep doing it."
You can read the Abstract on line: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32805714/
High Intensity Intervals a Viable Option
I've written before that many, perhaps most, people will find interval training more efficient and appealing than steady state exercise.
It appears that researchers are coming around to that realization.
Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus, and colleagues interviewed 30 inactive adults--18 men and 12 women--before and after they participated in different types of continuous and interval exercise in a controlled lab setting and on their own free time.
They concluded that interval exercise, when used appropriately, can fit into people's menu of flexible exercise options.
Stork points to
the parent of a toddler as an example.
You'll find more details in Science Daily: https://tinyurl.com/y5ntxwsj
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Science is making it clear that viable active living options are available to practically everyone. It's up to each of us to find the type of training that fit our needs--and make us happy.
As Alex Hutchinson wrote: "find what works for you, and keep doing it."
You'll find many options in our latest book Take Charge: https://www.cbass.com/PROD08.htm
Can Diet Quality Change Gene Activity?
A: Yes indeed.
A new study summarized in the November 2020 issue of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter found that what we eat can impact our health on a genetic level. In this case high-quality eating reduced the impact of genes associated with mortality and cardiovascular disease (body mass index, triglyceride levels, and type 2 diabetes).
As we have written before, genes can be turned on and off with exercise and other lifestyle changes. This phenomenon is called epigenetics. https://www.cbass.com/controlgenes.htm
It's another example of the awesome power we have to help ourselves.
Tufts researchers Jiantao Ma, PhD, and Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, and 44 colleagues analyzed the diet quality of nearly 10,000 individuals, and then over 400,000 genetic markers.
This research suggests that a high quality diet (one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, legumes, whole grains, and plant oils, and limits refined grains, added sugars, processed meats, and other high-saturated-fat and high-sodium foods) may alter your genetic predisposition to heart disease, regardless of your level of familial risk.
This is a Mediterranean-style diet. A balanced variety of whole, unprocessed foods. It's the diet Carol and I eat, with the main exception being that I drink whole milk, consuming a gallon every 5 days. (Milk doesn't agree with Carol.)
For details on the good and perhaps bad of whole milk, see our Milk in the Middle: https://www.cbass.com/milk.htm
Add regular exercise, high muscle mass, and low body fat, and you should be looking at a very long health span.
For more details in scientist speak, here's a link to the Abstract: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIRCGEN.119.002766
December 1, 2020
Best Form of Exercise for Long-Term Leanness?
A: Not long ago the consensus was that aerobic exercise is the best way to reduce body fat and keep it off. But not any more.
In 2008, I had the honor of spending an hour with Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of Aerobics. He surprised me by saying he wished he had my muscle mass.
I told him high-intensity exercise is the key.
Once again he was ahead of his time; the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas has every resistance training device imaginable. I see Dr. Cooper going in - or coming out - every time I'm there.
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An article by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University (Liverpool, England), published September 29, 2020, in The Conversation, explains current thinking on exercise for weight control. I'll summarize the basics and then copy a few lines from the article. You can read the rest on The Conversation.
Senior Lecturer David R. Clark and his colleagues explain why resistance training is the best way to reduce body fat and keep if off. You'll see why Dr. Cooper wished he had started training with weights earlier.
Exercises such as running and cycling burn off both fat and muscle, making it more difficult to stay lean. On the other hand, resistance training builds and maintains muscle, which burns more fat during - and after - exercise. (Some of the first articles on this website are about the after-burn of fat following high-intensity intervals and resistance training.)
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When we exercise, our muscles need more energy than they do when resting. This energy comes from our muscles’ ability to break down fat and carbohydrate (stored within the muscle, liver, and fat tissue) with the help of oxygen.
What is less obvious, however, is that after we’ve finished exercising, oxygen uptake actually remains elevated in order to restore muscles to their resting state by breaking down stored fat and carbohydrates.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and high-intensity resistance training are most effective at elevating both short and long-term after-burn.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) accounts for 60-75% of total energy expenditure in non-exercising people, and fat is the body’s preferred energy source at rest.
Increasing muscle size through resistance training increases RMR, thereby increasing or sustaining fat loss over time.
Here's the link to the entire article: https://theconversation.com/resistance-training-heres-why-its-so-effective-for-weight-loss-146453
(The article is packed with interesting information.)
November 1, 2020
How Much Exercise Should I do?
A: There is no one answer to that question. It depends on many things. Your age, health, activity level, and goals would be a few of the things to consider.
It's important not to bite off more than you are willing to chew. A beginner or out-of-shape person should take it one step at a time, and slowly build on success.
Here's what the Mayo Clinic recommends: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit.
Two recent studies - one involving Japanese traditional artists and the other Canadian seniors - produced some surprising results.
Researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology analyzed the longevity of four distinct groups of Japanese performers, 699 in all.
Kabuki is a classical Japanese performance art characterized by quick and constant movement.
The researchers predicted that Kabuki actors would generally live longer than the other three categories of artists (Sado, Rakugo and Nagauta). The other art forms mostly consist of performing tea ceremonies, recounting stories, or playing music, so none of them were nearly as active as Kabuki practitioners.
Surprisingly, it didn't turn out that way. Kabuki actors had a shorter lifespan than the other three types of artists.
Naoyuki Hayashi, Department of Social and Human Sciences, and his colleague Kazuhiro Kezuka theorize "that daily strenuous exercise as an occupation shortens rather than prolongs lifespan."
It appears that all of the constant, excessive endurance training necessary for performances effectively neutralizes the usual benefits of exercise. (Perhaps the difference is that you control exercise and work controls you.)
The researchers acknowledge that more work is needed to determine the optimal amount of exercise for protecting health. "It is also necessary to consider the effects of non-exercise activities...such as playing musical instruments, singing and speaking on health and longevity."
You'll find more details in a piece by John Anderer in the June 22, 2020, Study Finds: https://tinyurl.com/yd2y2ema
Never Too Late
Some people up in years believe it's too late for them to benefit from exercise. A study published online May 13, 2020, in the journal Neurology suggests otherwise.
“As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense,” said study author Marc J. Poulin, Ph.D., D.Phil., from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. “Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease.”
People, average age 66, who embarked on an aerobic exercise program had, on average, a 5.7% improvement on tests of executive function and verbal fluency, similar to that of a person five years younger.
“Our study showed that six months’ worth of vigorous exercise [no more than four days per week at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes or less, or no more than two days per week at high intensity for 20 minutes or less per day] may pump blood to regions of the brain that specifically improve your verbal skills as well as memory and mental sharpness,” said Poulin. “At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal aging, to have these types of increases is exciting.”
You'll find more details online: https://neurosciencenews.com/aerobics-brain-aging-16386/
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If six months will make your brain 5 years younger, imagine what a lifetime of exercise will do!
The Kabuki dancer experience tells us that we must give our body time to rest, recover--and improve.
Get stared as soon as you can, but don't overdo.
Find something you enjoy and do well, and stick with it as long as you keep improving. When progress stops, move on to something else.
Keep doing that throughout your life and you will be rewarded almost beyond belief. Use your imagination, and you'll be able to keep finding ways to improve.
As time progresses, your reward will be the ever growing gap between you and your peers who stop exercising, or never start.
People opine that the inevitable decline begins at about 35 - and that's likely to be true for those who believe it.
I was just getting started at 35.
After topping out in Olympic lifting, I moved on to bodybuilding. Check out my physique at 60: https://www.cbass.com/peakingcompetition.htm
Think positive and keep striving to improve. Believe you can do it and the odds are that you will.
October 1, 2020
Anything New on Low-Carb Diets?
A: Yes indeed! I last wrote about low-carb diets in 2008, and didn't think there was anything more to say--until a study published August 16, 2018, in The Lancet came to my attention. Inverse Newsletter calls it "the low-carb diet hierarchy the world has been waiting for."
Authored by Harvard professor Walter Willet, MD, and other leading voices in the national and global campaigns for healthier food--and based on an analysis of over 15,000 people over 25 years--the study reports two helpful findings: Not all low-carb diets are created equal, and, in general, keeping some carbs in the mix is better than cutting them out.
We'll start with an overview of how I eat--and then go deeper into the study.
My Eating Style
Diets don't work very well, because they make people unhappy. That's why I never diet. I follow an eating style. I believe the key to permanent body fat control is eating satisfaction. There's no need to eat foods you don't like - I never do - and there's no need to ever leave the table feeling hungry.
The secret lies not in how much you eat, but what you eat. If you eat the right things you can eat as much as you really want and still lose fat; it's actually hard to overeat. What happens is you become full and satisfied before you take in more calories than you burn.
My eating style is near vegetarian--primarily plant-based foods (whole foods and healthy fats), along with full-fat dairy, eggs, and fish. All the macro- and micro-nutrients are there. It's healthy--and satisfying.
That makes it unnecessary to count carbs or any other macronutrients. That way of eating keeps me happy, healthy, and lean.
That's essentially what the study finds--using the scientific method.
As noted above,
the findings are based on
studies of 15,428 people over 25 years. One author referred to it as
"the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake done to date."
AIM: Low carbohydrate diets, which restrict carbohydrate in favour of increased protein or fat intake, or both, are a popular weight-loss strategy. However, the long-term effect of carbohydrate restriction on mortality is controversial and could depend on whether dietary carbohydrate is replaced by plant-based or animal-based fat and protein. We aimed to investigate the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.
INTERPRETATION: Both high and low percentages of carbohydrate diets were associated with increased mortality, with minimal risk observed at 50–55% carbohydrate intake. Low carbohydrate dietary patterns favouring animal-derived protein and fat sources, from sources such as lamb, beef, pork, and chicken, were associated with higher mortality, whereas those that favoured plant-derived protein and fat intake, from sources such as vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, and whole-grain breads, were associated with lower mortality, suggesting that the source of food notably modifies the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.
In short, the best approach is to eat the normal amount of carbs, from mostly plant based foods. If want to cut carbs, replace the carbs with mostly plant-based fats and proteins.
For those who want more details, the study is open access: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(18)30135-X/fulltext
To hear more from Inverse, here's the link: https://tinyurl.com/y9pz4lzy
(As indicated above, my diet includes fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, mainly sardines. The below FAQ explains why that's important.)
Whole Food Diet--Without Fish?
A: I am convinced that eliminating fish from a primarily plant-based whole food diet is unwise and makes healthy eating overly restrictive.
For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet has been named the best overall and easiest to follow in the U.S News & World Report annual rankings.
Perhaps the world's healthiest diet, the Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. It favors fish and poultry sources of protein over red or processed meat. Mainly whole foods, it fills you up without overshooting calorie needs--and is the type of diet that has kept me lean for over 40 years.
A systematic review and meta-analysis by Oliver M. Shannon et al, published February 6, 2020, in The Journal of Nutrition, observed a beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on endothelial cell function. In other words, the Mediterranean diet improves the ability of arteries to expand in response to increased blood flow. It makes arteries more flexible.
Pooled data from fourteen randomized controlled trials followed 1930 participants on the Mediterranean diet for up to 2.3 years.
This response was consistent across different types of interventions and study designs and duration, and was independent of health status, BMI, or age of participants.
We only had access to the abstract, but found a recent piece by Eva Selhub, MD, an internist in Waltham, Massachusetts, detailing the role of food in keeping blood vessels flexible.
A clinician for over 20 years, she explains the how and why of eating to keep blood vessels healthy.
Her opening paragraph goes to the heart of the matter:
Evidence now suggests that sticking to a healthy diet, which is characterized by high consumption of fish, olive oil, and vegetables (and moderate wine) has been shown to have a positive effect on blood vessel function.
She explains that blood vessel walls are
lined by special cells called endothelial cells (known as the
Among other things, you can strengthen the endothelium by eating a healthy diet. She leads off with Fish it up:
Eating oily fish has been found to improve the elasticity of the blood vessels and new studies are also showing that the oils from fish may also speed up the repair process of damaged blood vessels. High in omega-3 fatty acids, higher intake of these oils has been associated with improved cardiovascular, vision, joint, brain and immune health. Sources of fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, artic char, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, halibut, and tuna.
Fish belong in a healthy whole food diet.
Dr. Selhub has more to say about eating your way to healthier blood vessels, including links to more research regarding fish and the Mediterranean diet. You'll find it all online: https://www.drselhub.com/eat-your-way-into-healthier-blood-vessels/
August 1, 2020
Does Fitness Still Matter in the Age of Statins & Stents?
A: You bet! Research documents the continuing connection between fitness and health in the age of modern medicine.
Scientists assessed cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and all-cause mortality in 1989, and again in 2020 when advanced health care had become the norm. They found a significant correlation between fitness and levels of heart disease and cancer mortality both times.
I learned about these studies on the website of The Cooper Institute, founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics" Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH. The Institute is the research arm of The Cooper Clinic, the world leader in preventive medicine. I've been going there since I was 50; they have always viewed exercise as the best medicine. (Significantly, Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Professor of Medicine at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, was the senior author of the 2020 study.)
The subjects in both studies were given preventive medical exams at the Cooper Clinic, which includes a maximal treadmill test. Subjects were categorized as low ft, moderate fit, or high fit based on their treadmill test results and age group. They were then followed for an average of 8 or more years to determine all-cause mortality across all fitness categories.
A press release from The Cooper Institute dated March 30, 2020, included the following insights about the two studies:
Death rates from heart disease and stroke
have dropped by 67% and 77%, respectively, over the past 50 years,
mostly due to statin medication to lower cholesterol, new high blood
pressure medication, decreased tobacco use, and more advanced cardiac
catherization and surgical techniques. While the original Cooper Center
Longevity Study prompted the American Heart Association (AHA) to add
physical inactivity as a modifiable risk factor for heart disease in
1992, the new study adds another 25 years of patient information to
examine whether modern medicine negates the importance of fitness.
You'll find many more details in the article by Dr. Farrell posted April 1, 2020, on The Cooper Institute website: Does Fitness Matter In This Age of Modern Medicine?
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Even space age treatment works best when you help yourself: Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and control your bodyweight. Statins, stents, drugs, and medical procedures do not correct the underlying causes. Only exercise and healthy living can do that.
Exercise for Bone Health at Every Age?
A: This question came to the fore when our long-time friend Richard Winett, now in his 70s, slipped and fell on black ice while walking his dog, Dolly.
Seriously hurt, he was taken to the hospital, where an MRI revealed that he had ruptured the patellar tendon above his left knee, requiring surgery and a long, slow recovery.
"I think it is likely that without years of resistance training I would have sustained other injuries such as fractures in my shoulder and arm," Winett wrote in his Master Trainer newsletter.
Shortly before receiving Dick's newsletter our son-in-law sent us a fact-filled article on the effect of working out on bone health. "Bone is a living tissue that reacts to the stresses we place on it," was the opening line. Many more telling details followed.
That and a Google search produced a plethora of information on exercise and bone health from childhood to old age.
The key insight is that bone mass-and-health top out between 25 and 30; how active you are in your early years affects your bones for the rest of your life. After 30, exercise and diet (calcium and vitamin D) determine how much bone mass and strength you retain. Every year or so our oldest bone matter is expelled and replaced by fresh bone; exercise and active living can make the fresh bone stronger than if you do nothing.
In short, lifestyle determines bone health at every stage of life. Once again, self help pays big dividends.
While the most practical form of exercise varies somewhat with age, impact and effort remain the most important factors.
A review article by scientists from Korean universities published November 2, 2018, in the journal Endocrinology And Metabolism concluded that "resistance exercise (RE), either alone or in combination with other interventions, may be the most optimal strategy to improve the muscle and bone mass...even in the older population." They add, however, that "RE is seldom prescribed with evidence-based criteria as there are no data on the anti-fracture effect of RE...In addition, if a sophisticated molecular mechanism related to the increased muscle and bone mass due to RE can be identified in the future, it would be helpful to discover the novel therapeutic targets for [bone strength] and sarcopenia."
In short, more information is needed on why RE is so effective in improving and preserving muscle mass and bone health in all ages.
Any form of exercise done regularly is better for bone health than no exercise. A consumer guide from Australia lists the good and not so good.
For children, moderate to high weight-bearing exercises, such as hopping, skipping, climbing, and running are recommended.
For adults, a combination of progressive resistance training and moderate impact weight-bearing activities such as basketball, tennis, jumping rope, running, jogging, hiking, and stair climbing are recommended.
Leisure walking, yoga, swimming and cycling don't load the skeletal system enough to regenerate the highest quality bone tissue.
Other sports make your bones very strong, but can be hard on your joints. I would put football, rugby, wrestling, and Olympic weightlifting in that category. I made it thru high school wrestling without any negative effects, but my middle fingers remember the hook grip I used to hold on to the bar during two decades of Olympic lifting.
Finally, variety in exercise is better than repetition.
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You'll find many more fascinating details in the article forwarded by our son-in-law: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ne5zg8/this-is-the-effect-working-out-has-on-your-bones
May 1, 2020
Free Weights or Machines, Which Is Better?
A: It depends. They both have their place.
I started at about 13 using my father's barbell set. A few years later, I raised my sights from simply becoming bigger and stronger to Olympic weightlifting. We moved to a larger house and upgraded my home gym with a York Olympic Barbell set, squat racks, and a flat bench. Some years later, I took on Powerlifting and added a Bench Press bench and upgraded our adjustable dumbbells to 100 pounds or more. We also purchased a York power rack around that time.
That was it for a decade or more, when Carol and I added Mini-Gym Isokinetic machines which control speed allowing the user to provide the resistance, and does so with each and every repetition as your muscles fatigue. Importantly, performance monitors allow you to track progress.
When I turned my interest to over-40 physique competition, we added several Nautilus and other machines and a full rack of dumbbells.
Wayne Gallasch took this photo of me pressing heavy dumbbells on our decline bench in 1983.
Presently, we have home and office gyms with a full complement of free weights, benches, kettlebells, resistance bands, and machines.
I tell you this, because I believe all of these forms of resistance training provide the overload necessary to build strength and muscle mass. There is no "one" best way to build strength and muscle. If you train your body progressively and allow time for recovery and growth they all work. A key factor is to provide enough variety to maintain motivation.
There are, of course, differences to keep in mind.
Transfer of Strength: Machines have a specific movement path, while free weights allow you the flexibility to mimic specific activities you want to train. Examples are swinging a golf club or kicking a football.
Some say that's the primary advantage of free weights. Arthur Jones of Nautilus machine fame disagrees.
Arthur says that "almost" the same as in competition provides negative transfer, which complicates and wastes time. He says the general strength transfer provided by a machine or a standard lifting motion is best. That skill training is specific and requires no overload.
I'm inclined to agree with Arthur. Do the basic exercises, AND THEN practice your sport.
Injury Risk: You are less likely to hurt yourself with a weight machine, than with free weights. While injuries can occur using weight machines, they are more likely to come from overly aggressive free weight training.
You're not likely to hurt yourself either way if you control the weight thru the full range of motion, up and down.
Cost: Machines are costly. No doubt about it.
If you're on a budget equipping your home gym, keep in mind that all you really need is a barbell, dumbbells, an adjustable bench, a squat rack, and perhaps a chin-up bar.
A full range of dumbbells is, of course, expensive. An answer is to buy Power Block dumbbells that can be adjusted from 10 to 100 pounds or more. For smaller jumps, you can add magnet weights.
Those who are new to resistance training should probably look for a reasonably priced fitness center that has both free weights and machines, and pay a personal trainer to show you the ropes. After that, you can decide whether you want to train at home or in a fitness center.
Except for a brief time after coming back from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, I have always trained at home. At the beginning, all I had to go by was Strength & Health magazine. I taught myself the three Olympic lifts (press, snatch and clean & jerk) by looking at the photos. (My dad taught himself how to pole vault, so it may be in our genes.)
I had some great training partners during my Olympic lifting days, but I've trained alone most of the time. That has kept me from letting my competitive urges get me in trouble. I am definitely a self-starter.
I have friends who thrive on the atmosphere of a gym. Training alone would squelch their motivation.
Again, you decide.
April 1, 2020
Walking Versus Coffee for Brain Stimulation--and Mood Enhancement?
A: I've often said that my best ideas come while walking--and that walking lifts my spirits. I've also written that I drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee on most days. (Carol doesn't drink coffee.)
We now have new studies testing both claims. The first study compares the effects of walking and coffee. The second focuses on mood.
The first study finds that both walking and coffee stimulate brain function, and may complement each other, but that walking alone seems to be the best option.
Researchers from Western University in London, Ontario, Canada and the University of British Columbia in British Columbia, Canada compared the effects of walking and coffee on working memory and reported their findings in the December, 2019, Nature Scientific Reports.
Led by Anisa Morava, Exercise and Health Psychology Lab at Western University, the researchers looked at 50 participants, aged 18 to 40, half of whom drank coffee regularly. They tested their ability to quickly process and recall information under three different conditions: after 20 minutes of brisk walking; after consuming about as much caffeine as found in a cup of coffee; and then neither intervention as a control.
They found that 20 minutes of brisk walking improved working memory as much as a dose of caffeine. This was true for both coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers, suggesting that exercise could benefit people regardless of whether they rely on coffee to stay alert.
People who drank coffee regularly were more efficient after a walk.
Anisa Morava and her colleagues explained their finding on the basis of the well know fact that regular caffeine use creates a tolerance to its effect. The coffee drinkers were unfazed by the caffeine administered in the study--but they did respond to the walking.
While caffeine can give people a buzz, raising alertness, the effect only works in those unaccustomed to drinking coffee.
So, walkers don't need coffee. Walking alone does the job.
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I found the study on movement and mood in Dr. Richard Winett's MASTER TRAINER newsletter (December 2019).
The research is complex, but the bottom line is simple: Breaking up sedentary behavior with movement enhances mood.
Researchers led by M. Giurgiu tracked the movement and mood of 92 university employees over five days, and reported their findings in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (Online August 22, 2019).
Physical activity and sedentary behavior were tracked using accelerometers and mood was assessed 10 times a day using smartphone diaries.
The conclusion: These ecologically valid findings suggest breaking-up sedentary behavior as a promising strategy to enhance mood in everyday life. In particular, breaking-up sedentary behavior frequently and intensively, for example, by walking instead of standing, may be most beneficial.
Dr. Winett nailed it: "To improve your mood, take a brief walk."
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My parents didn't drink coffee and I got all the way through law school without drinking it. The law firm where I went to work had a coffee pot going all the time and I drank coffee during the 10 years I was there. When Carol and I opened our own law office, we offered our clients coffee. As noted above, she never developed the habit--and I didn't drink much either.
When we closed down our law practiced to devote full time to Ripped Enterprises--most of my time was (and is) devoted to researching and writing--I started drinking coffee again.
At first, my coffee consumption was only to get me going for workouts, but a few years ago I started drinking coffee several times a day. I knew it wasn't a good idea, but it seemed to help me concentrate.
This FAQ has persuaded me to go back to drinking coffee only before workouts. Twice a week. Not enough to develop a tolerance.
I expect to feel and sleep better. And perhaps think more clearly.
I will, of course, continue taking brief walks throughout the day.
* * *
Unfortunately, I've founds that caffeine withdrawal is unpleasant, with headache being the most common symptom.
Caffeine causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which slows blood flow. A sudden increase in blood flow can cause painful withdrawal headaches as the brain adapts to the increase in blood flow.
I expect that to pass after a week or so. I'm staying the course.
Does Milk-Fat Shorten Life?
A: That may be the case according to a new study from Brigham Young University, published October 28, 2019, in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
Research on 5834 adults found that people who drank low-fat milk appeared to experience 4.5 years less biological aging than those who drank 2% or whole milk.
Exercise science professor Larry Tucker, PhD, found whole milk consumption to be associated with shorter telomeres, an index of biological aging.
While this provides support for the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that we consume nonfat or 1% milk, and not whole milk, it is hardly the whole story.
"Milk is probably the most controversial food in our country," Professor Tucker told Science Daily (January 15, 2020). "If someone asked me to put together a presentation on the value of drinking milk, I could put together a 1-hour presentation that would knock your socks off. You'd think, 'Whoa, everybody should be drinking more milk.' If someone said do the opposite, I could also do that."
"At the very least," he continued, "the findings in this study are definitely worth pondering. Maybe there's something here that requires a little more attention."
* * *
In addition to the creamy taste, those of us who drink whole milk have a 50% lower risk of diabetes and are less likely to crave processed foods. In moderation, I believe the good outweighs the bad, whatever it may be.
For full details, see Milk in the Middle: https://www.cbass.com/milk.htm
March 1, 2020
Does Skipping Breakfast Aid Weight Loss?
A: I don't think so. The idea of eating a big breakfast, medium-sized lunch and small dinner has been around since the 1960s, but research is now starting to back up the benefits of eating the greater part of your calories early in the day.
I've long maintained that eating a substantial breakfast is a key to calorie balance. That skipping breakfast opens the door to weight gain.
Eating breakfast levels your blood sugar after a night of fasting--and helps keep your appetite under control for the rest of the day. What happens is you become full and satisfied before you take in more calories than you burn.
Recent studies from Israel and from California delve into the science of meal timing. It appears that breakfast may be even more important than I thought.
One study focuses on weight control and the other on obesity and disease.
A study led by Daniela Jakubowicz, Wolfson Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, found that dieters who consumed most of their calories at breakfast lost two and a half times more weight than those who had a light breakfast and ate most of their calories at dinner.
The California study found that mice consuming all of their calories during their "daytime" appeared to be completely protected from diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease and liver damage) that afflicted mice allowed to eat at any time of day or night.
Both studies were published a few years back, but came back into focus with a thought provoking (January 8th, 2020) "Video of the Day" by Michael Greger, MD, uber researcher and founder of NutritionFacts.org, and author of How Not To Die (Flatiron Books, December 8, 2015): https://nutritionfacts.org/video/is-skipping-breakfast-better-for-weight-loss/
About the same time, BBC FUTURE came out with a comprehensive article (including links to the above studies) on this topic by Linda Geddes: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190304-how-meal-timings-affect-your-waistline
The bottom line is that skimping on breakfast is to be done at one's peril. Starting your day with a substantial breakfast is a proven path to leanness and health.
I start my day with the latest version on my "Old Reliable" breakfast and end with a bed-time snack. I do not allow my blood sugar to drop at any time during the day. My weekly weight records show that this has worked well for decades on end.
Breakfast or no breakfast; it's up to you.
February 1, 2020
Can Exercise Both Treat and Prevent Depression?
A research review published in the August 8, 2019, Current Sports Medicine Reports found that exercise can both prevent and treat depression.
Felipe Schuch, PhD, Department of Sports Methods and Techniques, Federal University, Brazil, and two colleagues from the United Kingdom cited 49 meta-analysis studies, which followed 267,000 people who were not depressed for a year or longer and found that high levels of physical activity and exercise reduced the chance of developing depression by 17% overall. Another meta-analysis cited in the study, which looked at 25 randomized, controlled trials testing the effects of exercise in people who were already depressed, found that exercise training had a "very large and significant antidepressant effect," compared to various control interventions.
Planning and support were key factors.
Finding an enjoyable activity, having support from friends and family, and being supervised by a fitness professional all increased the likelihood of starting and sustaining an exercise program, the authors noted.
Depression is a major problem worldwide. More often than not, drugs and psychotherapy are the main focus. Lifestyle and exercise are often given little consideration.
Investigating the why and how exercise reduces symptoms of depression is in its early stages.
Finding a form of exercise that makes you happy is an important first step.
* * *
If I wake up feeling a little "down," I know from long experience that the answer is to get up and get moving. I start most mornings by walking around our house and then doing my "Morning Motion."
My Morning Motion routine is ever evolving. The basic idea is to get the blood flowing to all parts of my body, including my brain. I begin by opening and closing my hands and moving my wrists, elbows, shoulders, legs, back, calves, and neck. I end this segment with balancing movements and free squats with a broom stick.
The latest addition is resistance bands. I do arm movements and move on to shoulder presses, bend over rows, shrugs, and deadlifts. A major advantage of RBs is that they allow me to adjust for my weak shoulder and move my lower body without aggravating my gimpy lumbar spine.
The routine takes about 10 minutes. The emphasis is on movement--not effort.
I end with a short walk (15 or 20 minutes) around our neighborhood. The only negative is a barking dog across the street, who can't get it through her pea-brain that I'm a neighbor.
A positive is that two big dogs on the next street over are always happy to see me. My dad, a dog lover, observed that little dogs bark to keep the play on their side, while big dogs don't feel threatened. These dogs are monsters, capable of doing major harm to anyone who abuses them.
It took a while for us to make friends, but we've come to be good buddies. They can smell and hear me long before I get to their yard and hang over the fence waiting for me. The alpha dogs insists on getting attention first, but lets me pet his underling a little bit.
The dogs and I enjoy the contact; they lick my hands while I rub their big heads. (Carol makes me wash my hands when I get home.)
Self efficacy is another key factor.
* * *
Self efficacy is discussed by Tim Bono, PhD, professor of positive psychology, in his book WHEN LIKES AREN'T ENOUGH.
Self efficacy is the concept that something you do for yourself--such as exercise--is more empowering and therapeutic than something that comes from outside sources.
One of Dr. Bono's students suffering from depression confided to him that short daily workouts in his apartment helped him feel in control, that he was “taking care of himself.”
Bono cites the following comment by researchers investigating the why and how exercise reduces symptoms of depression:
One of the positive psychological benefits of systematic exercise is the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard….It is conceivable that the use of medication may undermine this benefit by prioritizing an alternative, less self-confirming attribution for one’s improved condition. Instead of incorporating the belief ‘I was dedicated and worked hard with the exercise program; it wasn’t easy, but I beat this depression,’ patients might incorporate the belief that ‘I took an antidepressant and got better.’
For more retails see my article Exercise & the Science of Happiness: https://www.cbass.com/exercise_happiness.html
January 1, 2020
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