Thursday, December 24, 2015

Closing Out 2015

I’ve become a fan of TED talks, short presentations on Technology, Entertainment and Design from cutting edge scientists, deep thinkers and social pioneers.

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken. As the director of 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

Here’s the link to his TED Talk presentation. My hope is that at this season of the year, you’ll relish the relationships that you’ve established and bask in the love of close friends and family.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Tale of the Tape

It’s a lot of fun to go analytic when it comes to sport. Baseball is probably the best example. Students of the game pour over the numbers- the value of which has never been better described than in the movie Money Ball. 

In our own inimitable way, we’ve become more sophisticated in examining the underpinnings and constructs of how we can go faster. The operant word here is power. Sure, you need a modicum of strength, but it’s the application of strength, expressed per unit of time (watts) that explains performance on the Firefighter Combat Challenge course.

So, the question is, “Where are there opportunities to shave off seconds and fractions of seconds in order to go faster?” The 2-minute barrier, long a benchmark is now almost passé. Meaning no disrespect to anyone who goes sub-2, but like everything else in sport- faster, higher, stronger drives the equation.

We were curious to know how the data looked if we put it into an Excel spread sheet and then plotted the time line, dissecting the splits and comparing the World Records for three individuals and one Relay.

In the Daniel Pace created chart below, Bob Russell’s 2001 historic run on Mudd Island in Memphis is displayed longitudinally in a color bar graph, along with the segment times of the total run. Then, Ryan Fitzgerald’s and Justin Couperus’s races are similarly formatted for comparison and Montgomery Team Blue’s WR on the bottom.

You can draw your own conclusions, but look at the splits for a relay. Clearly, an individual is fighting a downstream fatigue effect. Having an ability to maintain terminal velocity for the dummy drag is hugely important. The big blocks of time are those activities were the greatest improvements are possible; e.g.: the run to the far end of the course and the hose advance.

From 2001 to the present, the time on the Keiser represents the smallest segment of the five events. Clearly, there’s been a lot of discussion about the Forcible Entry simulation. But, it’s far disproportionate compared to where real time savings exist.

The level of conditioning of today’s Challenge Athletes is way beyond that of those in the past- even ten years ago. The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is still one of the toughest competitons out there.  But, to your credit, a lot of you guys make it look easy.  “It ain’t no joke.”

A four-way comparison of World Record Runs on the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge Changed my Life

by Jackie Palmer
Posted by The First Twenty on November 16, 2015 at 10:30am

We all have that defining moment, the event that changed us. The moment that changed our lives, changed our paths, changed the way we view the world. Some people have more than one. And for some of us, we find something that continues to change and shape our lives. For me, that discovery was the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

I grew up as an athlete, started lifting weights at 14, played multiple sports in high school and Division I basketball. Even after my college, I continued to stay in shape. I loved training and working out, it was kind of my zen. Anything that was bothering me seemed to be not as bad after a good workout. Not only that, I have a family history of health issues that I want to avoid.

Ten years ago, I discovered the fire service and decided I wanted to be a firefighter. One year later, when I was 28, I was hired by Las Vegas Fire and Rescue. After I finished my academy and probation, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge World Finals were being held in Las Vegas. An email went out, that volunteers were needed to put together a relay team. Of course, I jumped at the chance to do anything competitive. I was then introduced to the most miserable fun I would ever have.
I have competed ever since, taking one season off for paramedic school. I started the first few years with tandems (2 people splitting the course) and relays (3-5 people). Finally, four years ago, made the agonizing leap to compete as an individual. The first two years, I improved my time and standings, but was always average, nothing ever really notable.

Over the years, I have met some of the most amazing people. In fact, my best friends I met from competing. Where else can you see the true firefighter spirit? You have firefighters who are dedicated to training, being better than they were the day before. Men and women from all over the world, who have a huge competitive drive, yet are willing to loan another competitor their own gear. Athletes who are sharing training methods and technique tips with others who they will be racing against. It’s definitely not your average competition.

In 2013, I had my defining moment. During the awards ceremony at Worlds, my friends had done very well in all the categories. I would hold the medals and plaques while they would go to the stage to receive the next ones. It became the joke that I was there just to hold their medals. It was then I realized I was the one holding myself back. I hadn’t done enough. If I wanted a medal, I needed to do more. I needed to change everything, and I was starting the next day.

A teammate put me in contact with a nutritionist, so I changed the way I ate. I had been aware of my eating habits, but never really dedicated to eating healthy. I was now eating the way I needed to, balancing everything, not just making sure I ate some meat and only half a donut. My crew was on board with eating healthy as well, so it made it much easier at work.

I changed my training. How could I expect to get better if I wasn’t willing to push to improve. A firefighter from Washington, Georgia Daniels, gave me the best training advice. She said, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” So I did. I trained harder than I ever had before, pushed myself beyond what I thought was physically possible for me. And a crazy thing happened; I got better on the fire ground.
I became a better firefighter.
How many of us have pushed our physical limits to the point of not being able to stand? How many of us know where that point is? When you are beyond physically exhausted, can you still push as hard as you can? When your low air alarm goes off, how long do you have while still working at max? Or your alarm stops going off, now how much air do you have? Can you still make yourself work to drag your partner out? Do you still have the strength to do it?

Since almost all my training is done with my SCBA and mask on, I got to learn all of these by accident. I became stronger and more effective pulling lines. I became comfortable wearing my airpack, no longer feeling like I was restricted in my movements. I could manage my air much better while inside an IDLH environment. Most importantly I learned, if necessary, I had a lot more I could give if I needed to get my partner out.

That year of dedication paid off. At the end of 2014, I had made huge improvements and finished with a 2nd place overall, and a new world record in the relay. However, I felt I could do more. So again, I looked at what I was doing and started making necessary changes the next day.

I wanted to know the absolute limit I could take my body. I learned a lot about myself. Working on the busiest engine and rescue in the city of Las Vegas, doesn’t allow for a lot of working out on duty, or sleep. So trying to train while sleep deprived doesn’t work. Sometimes, I just had to admit I was not physically able to workout, and sleep was the only thing I should do. Knowing when to tap out and take a nap is a hard lesson to learn when you are used to pushing yourself.

However, on those days where working out was possible, my crew was there to help. My partner, the unwilling victim of my training, was pushing me to go harder. They made sure I never gave, in their words “a second place effort.” Always finding ways to motivate and push me to go harder. Even if it meant they had to run with me to make sure I didn’t slow down. My guys would even cook extra healthy when it got closer to race days. Having that kind of support made me want to represent my department and especially my station, even more.

After another year of hard work, in 2015, I finished with a 1st place individual, the fastest female in 9 years. My relay team, due to all their hard work and dedication as well, finished first, and a new world record.

Of course I am not done yet. I can do more. I can be faster. I can be a better firefighter.

This article was written by guest contributor Firefighter/Paramedic Jacqueline Palmer of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Station 10. She is Firefighter Combat Challenge Athlete for Team 4th Alarm who "believe in the 4 F's of life: Fire, Family, Fitness and Faith. They encourage our brothers and sisters to work hard, train hard, and play hard."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

New strategies could mean big advances in staying young

From Time Magazine by Jeffery Kluger Dec 3, 2015

It's not this hard: New studies show better way to turn back the clock

For humans, death in old age has always been life’s great punchline. It takes 70 or 80 years to get really good at the whole business of being alive, and no sooner does that happen than mortality begins looking your way, tapping its watch and discreetly reminding you that there’s a line waiting for your table.

It’s the job of aging—and the multiple diseases that accompany it—to make sure we eventually get out of the way, an unhappy fact humans have been battling practically as long as we’ve been around. But some experts argue that aggressively treating the age-related diseases—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia—instead of aging itself has been a mistake.

A collection of studies just published in Science aims to explore some promising new strategies for getting down into the machinery of the cells themselves to stop or at least slow the aging process. “Age is the greatest risk factor for nearly every major cause of mortality in developed nations,” wrote Matt Kaeberlein, University of Washington professor of pathology, and his colleagues in an introduction to the studies. “Despite this, most biological research focuses on individual disease processes, without much consideration for the relationship between aging and disease.”

The effort to change this is a war being fought on multiple fronts. Here are the places science is making some of the greatest advances.

Gut microbes: Whether you like it or not, your body is home to many trillions of bacteria that are essential to digestion and other bodily processes. In the aged, however, the makeup of that population changes, with higher concentrations of a bacterial species known as bacteroides, which which are harmless and helpful as long as they remain in the gut, but can cause infections and other problems when they infiltrate other tissues. Overall, researchers have found, the changing makeup of the microbiome can have an impact on immunity, cognitive function and maintenance of muscle tissue—all of which decline in older people.

The problem is exacerbated by antibiotics, which tend to be prescribed at higher rates as people age, and generally kill good bacteria as well as bad. Studies have shown that long-term stays at assisted living facilities or nursing homes are associated with both increased frailty and further deterioration of the microbiome—though it’s not certain whether this is a matter of causation or mere association. Either way, the microbiome is one of the easier parts of the human system to manipulate. It’s too much to say that we can eat our way to immortality, but better health and, perhaps, more years are hardly out of the question.

Telomeres: Telomeres are cuff-like structures at the ends of chromosomes that grow shorter over the course of a lifetime, leaving the body susceptible to a range of age-related breakdowns. According to Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, who wrote one of the papers in the Science release, the rate at which any one person’s telomeres burn down is from 30% to 80% determined by genetics, with the rest most heavily influenced by external variables such as diet, environmental toxins, exercise and stress.

The low-hanging fruit here are lifestyle variables: improving diet, increasing exercise, doing what you can to reduce stress and limit exposure to environmental toxins. No matter the reason for telomere shortening, boosting the levels of the body’s own telomere-building enzyme, known as telomerase, may help. That can be done, but it’s risky. According to Blackburn, who is one of the discoverers of telomerase, “in 80 to 90% of fully malignant human tumors, cancer cell telomerase is up-regulated compared to normal tissue counterparts.”

Still, the enzyme remains one of the great hopes of anti-aging scientists, provided the dangers can be controlled. That’s no easy feat, which is why a hope—but a promising one—is what telomerase will remain for now.

Stem cells: The body’s best little construction workers are stem cells, the versatile progenitor cells that have the power to rebuild organs and other systems by becoming whatever kind of specialty tissue they need to be. No surprise, stem cell production and performance decline as we age—and organ decline follows. Environmental factors such as toxins and poor diet can further damage stem cells, as can sun exposure, in the case of the skin. Two approaches can help reverse, or at least slow, the aging and death of stem cells. In numerous experiments, stem cells from an older organism injected into a younger one have been shown to revert to a more youthful state, and the reverse is true for young cells place in an aged body. Introducing plasma or other blood factors from younger people into older ones may work a similar rejuvenation. Simpler interventions may also help: if a person with a poor diet and little exercise or a high stress level is exhibiting stem cell decline too early in life, reducing the stressors and otherwise changing the lifestyle may reduce the problem too.

Mitochondrial breakdown: There’s a little tiny engine room deep inside your cells that is responsible for metabolizing energy and keeping the cell alive. It’s the mitochondria, and it’s so important it’s thought of as its own tiny organ. It even has its own DNA profile. But the engine starts to falter as we age, and that has an impact across the entire power grid that is the body. The good news is, researchers have definitely determined that yes, this plays a direct role in aging. The bad news is that reversing the process doesn’t seem to reverse aging—at least not by itself.

The breakdown in the mitochondria has to do with how key proteins—which are densely packed inside the organelle—unfold as they go about their work. This process is less efficient in older organisms. Investigators working with roundworms have figured out ways to intervene in this process and improve the unfolding, but that hasn’t had an impact on the apparent age of the animal. Still, the authors of the Science paper have concluded that while mitochondrial health does not, on its own, determine aging, it all but surely plays an important role. Determining that role—and making the most of it—is where anti-aging therapy might lie.