Wednesday, May 5, 2021

2,000 Calories and 10,000 Steps a Day Is Probably All You Need to Be Healthy, According to Experts

By Jessica Stillman

INC Magazine

If you've packed on a few pandemic pounds in the last year, you're not alone. Since stay-at-home orders began last year 42 percent of Americans have gained weight, averaging an additional 29 pounds each. And while some folks used the disruption in their schedules to start new healthy habits, many of us discovered being stuck in the house with hoarded snacks and a lot of stress isn't great for fitness.

Now with a less virus-constrained summer beckoning, many Americans are looking down and thinking it might be a good time to recommit to a healthy lifestyle. If that's you -- and particularly if you're more likely to meet the idea of returning to the gym with groans and cheers -- there is an article you really need to read.

10,000 and 2,000

Written by Graham Isador for GQ, it tells the tale of a group of his friends who banded together to tackle their pandemic pounds with a simple commitment: each member agreed to walk 10,000 steps and eat no more than 2,000 calories a day.

How far did this modest-sounding fitness plan get the group? A lot farther that you'd probably predict. "After four months following those guidelines, my friend dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers," reports Isador.

Surprised by the effectiveness of what could be seen as a slacker's approach to fitness, Isador surveys experts to see if his friends' simple strategy could really be so effective or if there were any hidden downsides.

A long list of caveats...

He certainly rounds up a hefty list of caveats. Ten thousand steps, for instance, is a random number made up by fitness gadget manufacturers, not a number imbued by the universe with magical health-giving properties. Consider recommendations to walk 10,000 steps to basically translate to 'walk a fair amount at a decent pace.'

Consistency is also key, the experts stress, and as humans are incredibly diverse, different people will see different results. No solution, even one this straightforward, is right for everyone.

Nor is this program going to get you ready for a marathon or a fitness magazine cover shoot. Expect dad bod not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Finally, the evidence that some kind of resistance exercise like weight training has specific mental and physical benefits is strong enough that you should definitely consider adding some to your routine.

... but no excuses.

But all that being said, the experts also agree that just walking 10,000 steps a day and eating whatever amount of calories the FDA recommends for someone of your age, build, and gender (generally around 2,000) will get you a whole lot further towards basic health and fitness than you probably think.

"Walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes tells Isador. "Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you're not responsible when you fail, but a basic program performed consistently--even a half-assed effort done consistently--can bring you a really long way."

So if you want to get back to your old energy levels and into last year's pants, consider Isador's article both a call to action and a massive excuse buster. The good news is getting back in decent shape is simple. The (sort of) bad news is, barring any big physical or psychological impediments, you now have no reason not to get started.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What Happened to Society’s Obligation to its Police Agencies?

Posted on April 15, 2021 by admin

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

The past year has seen major efforts to tear up the agreements that make for an orderly society. The idea of a social contract arose during the Enlightenment and had an influence on the founding principles of the United States. The social contract is defined as an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. The essential civics lesson about our nation’s founding is that government arises from the consent of the governed. People decide collectively what is in the best interests of the majority to accomplish together what would not be possible individually. In return, the people agree to abide by those laws. In return for compliance, the government established by the people create systems that guarantee individual rights and processes to honor and enforce them against government overreach.

Another important aspect of consenting to be governed is that individuals agree to give up resolving most serious disputes on their own and let a system of courts accomplish justice. This necessarily means giving the government the right to exercise force in accomplishing that. Thus, we give rise to enforcers of the law. Armed agents of the government, operating with the authorization to use reasonable force, expect that citizens will submit to that authorized force as part of their social contract with their fellow citizens.

The American spirit of individualism and rebellion was not lost at the last battle of the American Revolution in 1781. As the number of law enforcement agencies grew, so too did the laws that regulated them. Many states recognized the right of citizens to resist unlawful arrests. With the advance of multiple civil remedies and greater training of police, most laws allowing resistance to arrest were removed in favor of other remedies. Every state requires compliance with lawful orders, and every governmental body is subject to the vote of the people. If laws and lawmakers are inadequate, there are means of circumventing the legislature through petition.

Not accepted as a natural right was violence against private property, violent resistance to government actors, and attacks on the systems in place to govern. Implicit in the early writings of the American Revolution era is the expectation that if the government fails in providing essential services and protecting individual liberties, then the government may be reconstituted. Within the bounds of philosophy are those extremists who believe we have reached that point and deserve another revolution, and those who believe in either anarchy or extreme government control.

With tyranny fresh on the minds of the founders, the right of citizens to possess firearms was ensured among other rights, including the right against torture as expressed in the right to remain silent, and the right to reasonableness when subject to search and seizure. As any student of history knows, these rights in the U.S. Constitution as amended with the Bill of Rights, were rights that existed by nature and were not derived from laws passed by men. The documents simply articulate those rights as those which were not to be infringed by the government, including state and local entities.

Witnessing the violence and destruction of this year’s riots must call us to remember the good work of the founders, and those who have worked selflessly to keep our republic functioning. Despite the critics, our nation has made important strides toward increasing access to success and removing impediments to the quest for fair treatment for all. Ignoring that progress, as faulty or slow it may be, has resulted in the chaos we see daily. Especially in regions where the law has been disregarded, where criminals are encouraged, where the legitimacy of governance has been eroded by its own weakness, the deconstruction of our republic is being approved by political leaders too afraid to believe in their own system.

By attacking the criminal justice system, because it is the most visible of all government functions, the real objective is to attack our Constitutional government, taking a shortcut from due process and civil discourse as agents of change.

Piece by piece, legislators are caving to the demands of deconstructionists to dismantle the effectiveness of enforcing the law. Police officers are banned from enforcing some existing laws, prosecutors are declining to hold violent offenders accountable, and lawmakers are removing necessary tactical and legal protections from law enforcement officers. The lawbreakers among us have taken this as a license to disregard police authority which has resulted in almost all of the dramatic uses of force to take custody of violent offenders. Offenders are not blamed for fighting and fleeing from officers, and officers are blamed for doing what they must do. The only hope for restoring the protection of the citizenry within the framework of justice is to allow our existing resources to work, return to educating the public about the philosophy and structure of our democracy, and restraining ill-advised and radical decisions by removing foolish leaders from office.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

$2.2 million agreement reached over Pa. State Police fitness test lawsuit claimed discriminated against women

Updated  April 18, 2021; Today 3:09 PM

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania State Police have reached a settlement agreement in a 2014 lawsuit that said the PSP's entry-level fitness test was discriminatory against women. This file photo from 2014 shows cadets in a fitness session held for the media at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Hershey. (Christine Baker/PennLive).

By Steve Marroni |

The U.S. Department of Justice reached a $2.2 million settlement agreement with Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Police over a 2014 claim that the state police use of physical tests as part of the entry-level hiring process for state troopers resulted in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against women.

In the suit, the Justice Department argued the use of the tests to screen and select applicants for the entry-level positions resulted in a much greater percentage of male applicants than female applicants passing the physical fitness tests going back to 2003.

As a result, the state police had failed to hire dozens of women for entry-level trooper positions on an equal basis with men, the Justice Department argued in the suit, saying this amounted to a pattern of employment discrimination against women, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Employers cannot impose selection criteria that unfairly screen out qualified female applicants,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release Tuesday. “When the Pennsylvania State Police use a physical fitness test as part of the process for choosing state troopers, they must ensure that the test complies with federal law. This settlement agreement reflects the Civil Rights Division’s continued commitment to removing artificial barriers that prevent women from becoming law enforcement officers.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, still subject to court approval, the Pennsylvania State Police will pay $2.2 million into a settlement fund that will be used to compensate those women who were harmed by the employment practices, according to Justice Department officials.

The agreement also requires the Pennsylvania State Police to offer priority hiring relief, with retroactive seniority, for up to 65 women for entry-level state trooper jobs. All priority hiring candidates must meet the employer’s lawful selection criteria, including the successful passing of any physical fitness test that meets the requirements of Title VII, justice department officials say.

In a joint filing Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the parties moved for a court order provisionally approving the terms of the settlement agreement.

The motion also asks the court to schedule a fairness hearing to provide an opportunity for individuals potentially affected by the proposed agreement to provide comments on the terms of the settlement.

Pennsylvania State Police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Soon after the suit was filed in 2014, state police officials defended their entry-testing standards, saying lowering the physical fitness standards for applicants would be insulting to those men and women who already strove to achieve those standards, and it would endanger current and future troopers.

The fitness test in question required candidates to be able to reach a standard of:

14-inch vertical jump in three attempts,
Agility run in 23.5 seconds in two attempts,
A 300-meter run in 77 seconds,
13 push-ups,
And a 1.5-mile run in 17 minutes and 48 seconds.

From 2003 to 2008, 94 percent of male applicants passed the fitness test, while 71 percent of female applicants passed. Under a similar test administered in 2009 through 2012, 98 percent of male applicants passed, while 72 percent of female applicants passed, according to the suit.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking?

April 1, 2021

Walking is good for you, obviously. But can it whip you into shape?

By Graham Isador
Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson

Four months ago my friend John Sharkman stepped on the scale and realized he was the heaviest he'd ever been. Sharkman—a former college football quarterback—was weighing in at 263 pounds, fifty pounds heavier than his time as an elite athlete. The realization that he'd jumped up to the size of a lineman was humbling, and he knew he needed to shed some weight. He asked me, his fitness journalist friend, to help. But the request came with quite a number of caveats: he didn't want to cut off certain food or alcohol, he didn't want to go to the gym, and he didn't want the whole process to feel that hard.

In the past, I've undertaken a number of successful fitness and fat loss challenges. I've taken all the pre-workout in the world, done thousands of kettlebell swings, gone paleo. But Sharkman's request got me thinking: What is the least amount of effort necessary for substantial weight loss? Can you get real results by just kind of messing around?

So in our group chat, Sharkman and a few other friends made a commitment to walking 10,000 steps a day and tracking our food. We aimed for about 2,000 calories. Sharkman dubbed the initiative Health Zone. After four months following those guidelines, my friend dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers. Some caveats obviously apply: losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is even harder. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. But the whole experience made me wonder: just how fit can you get from just walking ?

"I think walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," says nutrition coach and personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes. According to Fernandes, the reason we rarely hear about walking as a major fitness tool—in the same conversations as stuff like yoga or expensive spinning bikes—is that people aren’t emotionally prepared for fitness to be easy. “Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you’re not responsible when you fail,” he says. "But a basic program performed consistently—even a half-assed effort done consistently—can bring you a really long way, much further than going hardcore once in a while. "

It's not like walking is some secret. 10,000 steps is the default recommendation of some of the most popular fitness trackers on the market, and long walks have been a hidden weapon of superhero body transformations for ages. But until witnessing Sharkman undergo his transformation I didn't realize just how powerful just walking could be.

Of course, it's not the right tool for every goal. It won't get you over the finish line of a marathon. And if you want to achieve some sort of beach body, unless you already have some muscle mass, at a certain point simply getting leaner starts to have diminishing returns. That’s why celebrity trainer and champion bodybuilder Eren Legend is wary of signing off on walking as a solution for looking better naked.

"If you do cardio and you have a pear-shaped body, all that you can expect is to become a smaller pear," says Legend. “The only way to change your body composition, the shape and look of your body, is to perform a form of resistance-based training. That’s not to say that 10k steps is bad—if you’re regularly performing some type of physical activity your body is going to change. But is it the most efficient way? Some form of resistance training like weight lifting or sprints in addition to a nutrition plan will get you to your goals faster.”

Similarly, fitness tracker Whoop has given up on counting steps at all together. While most trackers and fitness apps count steps, the designers behind Whoop believe step count alone doesn't tell you enough, choosing instead to measure heart rate. Whoop's vice president of performance Kristen Holmes—a three-time field hockey all-American and one of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history—explained: “Simply counting steps doesn’t really tell you that much. All steps aren’t created equal.” A brisk walk is more beneficial than a slow walk. A jog might be more beneficial than that, she said. The company determined heart rate was the best way to tell you how hard those steps were working.

So if you're chasing high-level performance, single-digit body fat, or a bodybuilder physique, then relying solely on a ton of walking isn't the right move. But the reality is that most average people are pretty far from those goals, and focusing on the routines of really high performers my be doing more harm than good. In other words, expecting that you'll accomplish the training required for a movie star body when starting out a fitness routine is setting yourself up for disappointment. Walking a bunch, on the other hand, is something that is relatively simple to fit into your everyday life. The best fitness routine is always going to be the routine that you follow consistently. And I can vouch for the—unscientific, absolutely not peer-reviewed—results.

"Walking is something you're completely capable of starting right now," said Sharkman. "It sounds cheesy to say changing your life is that simple, but this definitely changed mine."

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Taking the Long View

March 27 2021

By Joe Powers and Ben May

Are We Courageous Enough to Create Our Own Future Now?

Walt Disney said: “Courage is the main quality of leadership.” Leadership in the fire and emergency services today defines the truth of his statement. Courage is one of the defining characteristics for every man and woman who takes the oath to serve and protect our citizens day and night. There is no nobler mission. But it’s not as easy as it was some years ago. We don’t mean “easy” in the challenges to do the job. That’s never been easy. It takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter–or any kind of first responder. It’s an extremely high bar in mental and physical ability and dexterity. The decision to lead firefighters and officers is the high ground of courage. It’s never easy to lead. It’s messy; sometimes we don’t know if we’ve made the right decision until years later. Today we are faced with every possible emergency facing our citizens and now are in the middle of a global pandemic. It seems like our services just keep expanding in the face of budget cuts and layoffs.

Shaping a New Future

Courage in leadership is defined by shaping the new future, maintaining traditional brand values, creating a foundation for sustainability through fostered innovation, and thinking differently to ensure tomorrow’s success. The fire service’s future relies on courageous leaders; however, the success of individual departments providing fire and emergency services hinges on the willingness of those leaders to step out, understand community needs, and begin to adapt now.

21st Century White Paper

The recent 21st Century Fire and Emergency Services White Paper from the Center for Public Safety Excellence is a blueprint for this adaptation. Released just a few months ago, the White Paper is one of the most comprehensive roadmaps for our service at exactly the right time. However, the future it describes is now. The actions it describes need to be taken now because our future is meeting us today. The 21st Century White Paper is exactly the kind of leadership so necessary for our profession and the safety of our citizens. It is visionary, strategic thinking grounded in the reality of the challenges we face with real solutions. This white paper should be a working document for every department’s strategic planning process.

A Change in the Wind

In the mid-2000s, the industry began a transformation. Little by little, fire department leaders across the United States started thinking differently and viewing their communities’ problems not in generalities but in specifics. Fire departments began to understand that, although fires are a high-risk problem, it is not the only risk experienced in the neighborhoods they serve. Today’s top fire departments hold the distinctions because their leaders stepped out of line, supported innovative thinking, and used their brand to build a foundation for long-term success in the community.

Community Risk Reduction

One of the key opportunities emerging from the 21St Century Fire and Emergency Services White Paper is the convergence of citizens’ needs for our service. The growth of community risk reduction (CRR) is the key that unlocks this opportunity for pinpoint service whether emergency or preventive, whether fire and rescue or some other agency that “we” bring into the equation. Incidentally, it’s a marketer’s dream. CRR begins with the brand: Fire Department or Fire and Rescue or Fire and Emergency Services.

In a recent conversation with one of our finest young chiefs, she mentioned how one of her challenges in bringing in new firefighters was the reality that only 7% of the job included actual firefighting. Yes, this is generally true, but we do not see this as a problem. It’s the evolution of our profession to an all-hazards mitigation service. Our heritage and history have served us well. It is rich in traditions as the stimulus for innovation, and CRR is that next step, with the White Paper to expand well beyond that.

Defining Risk and Creating a Point of Difference

The mindset of departments using models of CRR is different from all others, and rightfully so. The fundamentals of CRR drive departments to be different from all the others because the communities they serve are individual. Traditionally speaking, the fire service may provide some of the same services throughout the industry. However, we achieve the highest level of positive outcomes when we serve our residents with the programs and services most needed. We best serve our community best by first understanding risk.

It’s Not a Name Change

First and foremost, regarding CRR, let’s be on the same page. Throughout the industry, CRR may be one of the most misunderstood terms. For those leaders who understand CRR, there is long-term success in operations, community outcomes, and funding. For those who don’t understand it, CRR is simply a static name change and an unimpressive replacement for either “fire prevention” or the “fire marshal’s office.” What is the most significant risk to CRR? The lack of understanding by fire service leaders.

Opening the Firehouse Doors for a Transformative Model

CRR is not public education, fire code inspections, fire prevention, or more work for firefighters. It is a complete transformation to a model of risk assessments, prioritization, resource deployment, and evaluation. In the simplest of terms, CRR is all about opening the doors of our firehouses, looking into the neighborhoods, seeing the problems, then going out and helping to reduce the impacts of the biggest problems.

Understanding Enough to Tell the Story

In many cases, CRR uses firefighter perceptions, reliable data, and community insights to better understand the risk faced by residents and visitors. Collecting and studying the information create fantastic opportunities for fire service leaders to tell neighborhood-based stories. When fire departments can understand and articulate the unheard stories, they can use their trusted brand to impact communities positively, save lives, and write the organization’s future. This is where we start to see the opportunities of CRR in our departments. Telling the stories of an industrial area may drive changes to our training academy, the information we collect and share during preincident planning, and how command officers allocate emergency resources. Within a multi-family community, the stories may lead us to tailor curricula in that specific school district, improve on messaging during public events, and develop partnerships with social services to improve service delivery.

A Multidisciplinary Approach

CRR, depending on the neighborhood, may have elements of code enforcement and public education. However, true CRR is not fire prevention or kids wearing plastic fire helmets. CRR is community-specific services, programs, partnerships, and organizational changes to improve outcomes. CRR may impact physical fitness training and requirements where wildland and even high-rise risks occur. It may alter how company officers develop riding seat assignments or how home health care providers interact with their at-risk clients.

Is It Worth It? Yes, and Here’s How to Do It

CRR sounds like more work, right? Well … yes, and no. Creatively collecting information to tell the stories is an additional workload. However, as you begin to define the risks, the models of CRR drive increased efficiency and decreased organizational workload while doing more in the community. Although it sounds like a pipe dream, there are several benefits to CRR that most leaders don’t realize. By conducting a risk assessment and understanding the neighborhood stories, departments can better provide the risk-reduction activities communities need. However, CRR works the opposite way, too, by identifying what services communities don’t need–trimming citywide programs down to only those communities that require the services to increase efficiency and decrease workload. Also, providing the right services to the right community or population may reduce emergency response demand.

Dig Deeper to Understand the Real Risks in Your Community

What’s also important to understand is this: The first time you try to develop a risk assessment, you may not find the real story. Good risk assessments are the product of trials, innovations, evaluations, and perseverance. Risk assessments are not a one-and-done document you put on a shelf. Useful risk assessments use data, the Web, and even interviews to gather experiential data from firefighters, police officers, social works, and more. Evaluating progress can shed light on improvement opportunities and additional risk assessment elements to better tell the story.

It’s a Partnership that Can Work

Being everything for everybody is fiscally impossible, and–let’s be honest–the fire department doesn’t need to try to do it all. There are vast opportunities to partner with government and private organizations to improve communities. Linking up and communicating with social service and mental health resources may improve the holistic response to frequent 911 utilizers. Partnering with in-home health care, property maintenance, or meal-delivery services puts a number of advocates in homes, which the fire service cannot otherwise achieve. Even working with local schools and outlining their students’ specific risks can drive changes in morning announcements, lunchroom posters contents, and to-home messaging. There are so many capable organizations and people who can make a difference. Provide them with the information and let them do the job.

The “Fire” in “Fire Department”

As leaders, we have the responsibility to imbue young firefighters with the evolution of our profession and their responsibility as leaders to take it further. The brand equity and public loyalty are symbolized by the Maltese Cross, our uniforms, and our care–not just in time of need but in a comprehensive, interactive approach to safety and prevention with the citizens we protect in the middle. In our opinion, the name Fire and Rescue or Emergency Services is critical. Our citizens trust us in the way they know us. They know us first as the Fire Department, and it is an undisputed market and brand position.

Comprehensive Safety 24/7

In CRR, the Fire Department is leading and coordinating this comprehensive safety equation. That is marketing leverage from an unassailable position. It’s our responsibility to maintain that high ground of brand loyalty and equity. We do this daily in the specific actions with ourselves, the public, and the other agencies and professions we involve in CRR.

The fire service has the opportunity to capitalize on its brand and create a sustainable future through CRR. Risk-matched services, strategic partnerships, and continuous evaluation for improvement can drive outcomes to build our future through strengthening the fire department brand.

Courageous with CRR

Being courageous enough to intentionally instill CRR elements with the trusted brand of your fire department will put firefighters at the forefront of community change. Funding for your organization is no longer a government liability, as is seen in a traditional firefighting department; it’s an investment in intentional community change. Community investments that drive positive outcomes while reducing workload are a sustainable model for our industries’ future. The outcomes of CRR in one department cannot be duplicated in another. CRR requires leaders’ courage to step up and intentionally understand the communities served to tell the stories for successful outcomes.

Leading the Evolution of Our Future

The future of fire, emergency services, and comprehensive safety is in our hands if we have the courage to lead and shape it. Every fire officer, firefighter, and probie has the intelligence to embrace the shifting paradigm that includes the wellness of our citizens as well as their emergency needs. As the 21st Century White Paper notes: We will have specific data drawing a picture of the hazards and needs of every building, business, and family by jurisdiction and location. We are building a safe future for all our citizens with the fire service in the lead as the master builder.

Joe Powers is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. He works with fire departments to improve operational response, reduce operational workload, and tie data to strategic decision making. Powers is the deputy chief of community risk reduction at the Charlottesville (VA) Fire Department.

Ben May is a board director of the Center for Excellence in Public Safety and recently retired global director of corporate alliances for the Walt Disney Company. He has been a marketing consultant to Fire Service Publications (IFSTA) of Oklahoma State University’s School of Fire Protection Technology, the U.S. Fire Administration, and metro fire departments across the country. He has a master’ degree with honors in international communication and Russian.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What’s the Minimum Dose of Training to Stay Fit?

A new review assesses what it takes to maintain endurance and strength when circumstances interfere with your usual training

by Alex Hutchinson, Mar 23, 2021

My college coach used to assign us a week of complete rest every November, after the conclusion of the cross-country season. But one of my teammates, an exercise science student, discovered the research of Robert Hickson, who did some classic studies in the early 1980s on maintaining fitness with reduced training. So, during our yearly week of sloth and bacchanalian revels, we would sneak out for two 30-minute bouts of hard running, hoping that would allow us to be both well-rested and still fit when we started training for indoor track.

Life as a grown-up is more complicated, and the reasons for temporarily reducing training are sometimes considerably more pressing—like a pandemic, say. But the question endures: what’s the smallest dose of training you can get away with temporarily while staying mostly fit? It’s particularly relevant for military personnel, whose ability to train while on deployment is often severely constrained, which is why a group of researchers at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, led by Barry Spiering, has just published an interesting review of the “minimum dose” literature in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The review addresses three key training variables: frequency (how many days per week), volume (how long is your endurance workout, or how many sets and reps do you lift), and intensity (how hard or how heavy). It only includes studies in which the subjects reduced their training for at least four weeks, to distinguish it from research on tapering before big competitions—although some of the conclusions are similar. And it’s focused on athletic performance, not weight loss or health.

Maintain Your Endurance

The main conclusions about endurance are still based on those Hickson studies from the early 1980s, with a bit of confirmation from more recent studies. Hickson’s basic design was to put volunteers through ten weeks of fairly hellish training, involving six days a week of 40 minutes of cycling or running at intensities that reached 90 to 100 percent of max heart rate by the end. Then, for another 15 weeks, they reduced either the number of weekly sessions (to two or four), the duration of sessions (to 13 or 26 minutes), or the intensity of the sessions (to 61 to 67 percent or 82 to 87 percent of max heart rate).

Here’s the graph that got my college teammate so fired up, from Hickson’s 1981 study:

(Illustration: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise)

The vertical axis shows VO2 max, a measure of aerobic fitness. On the horizontal axis, you have baseline pre-training values on the left, for subjects who were recreationally active but untrained. After the ten-week period of hard six-day-a-week training, they’ve increased VO2 max by a very impressive 20 to 25 percent. Then, for the next 15 weeks, their VO2 max just stays at the new value, regardless of whether they drop down to only two or four days a week.

The overall conclusion of the new review, then, is that you can get away with as few as two sessions a week as long as you maintain volume and intensity of your workouts. But they caution that maintaining your VO2 max isn’t the same as maintaining your ability to perform long-duration endurance activities. Don’t expect to run your best marathon after a few months of twice-a-week training: your legs, if nothing else, won’t be able to handle it.

The picture was similar when Hickson’s volunteers reduced the duration of their training sessions to 13 or 26 minutes (i.e. reducing their baseline duration by one third or two thirds). Once again, VO2 max gains were preserved for 15 weeks. This study also included tests of short (~5-minute) and long (~2-hour) endurance. Short endurance was preserved in both groups, but the 13-minute group got worse in the two-hour test.

The third and final variable that Hickson manipulated was intensity—and here, finally, we get confirmation that training does matter. Dropping training intensity by a third (from 90 to 100 percent of max heart rate to 82-87 percent) led to declines in VO2 max and long endurance; dropping it by two-thirds (to 61 to 67 percent) wiped out most of the training gains. The takeaway: you can get away with training less often, or for shorter durations, but not with going easy.

There are a few important caveats here. Most notably, we’re drawing these conclusions based mostly on one specific, unusual, and probably unsustainable training protocol: hammering six days a week. If you have a more balanced training program that mixes hard and easy training, does it take more or less training to maintain fitness? It’s not obvious.

Also, the subjects in Hickson’s studies weren’t trained athletes or military personnel. If you’ve been training for years, you accrue some structural changes (a bigger heart and more extensive network of blood vessels, for example) that presumably take longer to fade away. Conversely, you probably reach a higher level of absolute fitness, which might fade away more quickly. One of the co-authors of the new review is Iñigo Mujika, a physiologist and coach at the University of the Basque Country in Spain who is among the world’s leading experts in tapering, in which athletes try to reduce their training enough to rest and recover for a few weeks without losing fitness before a big race. In tapering studies, athletes can reduce their training frequency by about 20 percent and their volume by 60 to 90 percent and maintain fitness as long as they keep their intensity high. That’s one good reality-check that suggests Hickson’s findings about the importance of intensity make sense.

Maintain Your Strength

The literature on resistance training is much more varied, which makes for a more complicated picture but hopefully more reliable conclusions. Surprisingly, the overall pattern turns out to be pretty similar to endurance training. You can reduce both the frequency and volume of workouts as long as you maintain the intensity, and you’ll preserve both maximum strength and muscle size for several months.

For exercise frequency, several studies find that even training just once a week is sufficient to maintain strength and muscle size. That fits with the conclusions of a study I wrote about recently that demonstrated impressive strength gains on a simple once-a-week routine. The exception is in older populations: for adults older than 60, there’s a bit of evidence that twice-a-week sessions are better at preserving muscle. There’s a similar picture for training volume: one set per exercise seems to be sufficient for younger populations, but older people may need two sets.

It’s worth noting that maintaining your existing strength is not the same as gaining strength: this review focuses on the minimum dose, not the optimaldose. Even in the broader strength training literature, there’s quite a bit of disagreement about how many sets or how many workouts per week it takes to fully max out your gains. But the basic finding here is that one set a week per exercise (or maybe a bit more for older adults) is probably enough to tread water for a while, as long as you don’t decrease how hard you lift. The review suggests aiming to approach failure by the end of each set, or at least to not decrease intensity compared to what you usually do.

In a perfect world, you’ll never need to apply any of this. But things happen, whether it’s related to work, travel, family, or global health. Over the years, as my own training has waxed and waned depending on the circumstances, the one non-negotiable element has remained a weekly tempo run—the spiritual descendant of those Hickson-inspired post-cross-country hammer sessions. It’s a shock to the system when my training has been patchy, but if that’s the minimum effective dose that ensures I never get truly out of shape, then I’m happy to swallow it.

For more Sweat Science, join me on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for the email newsletter, and check out my book Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.
Lead Photo: Mihajlo Ckovric/Stocksy

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Brain’s ‘wiring insulation’ is one of the major factors of age-related brain deterioration

A new study led by the University of Portsmouth has identified that one of

the major factors of age-related brain deterioration is the loss of a substance

called myelin.

Myelin acts like the protective and insulating plastic casing around the

electrical wires of the brain - called axons. Myelin is essential for superfast

communication between nerve cells that lie behind the supercomputer

power of the human brain.

The loss of myelin results in cognitive decline and is central to several

neurodegenerative diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s

disease. This new study found that the cells that drive myelin repair become

less efficient as we age and identified a key gene that is most affected by

aging, which reduces the cell's ability to replace lost myelin.

The study, published this week in the journal Aging Cell, is part of  

an international collaboration led by Professor Arthur Butt at the University of

Portsmouth with Dr. Kasum Azim at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany,

together with Italian research groups of Professor Maria Pia Abbracchio in

Milan and Dr. Andrea Rivera in Padua.

Professor Butt said: “Everyone is familiar with the brain’s grey matter, but

very few know about the white matter, which comprises the insulated

electrical wires that connect all the different parts of our brains.

“A key feature of the aging brain is the progressive loss of white matter and

myelin, but the reasons behind these processes are largely unknown. The

brain cells that produce myelin - called oligodendrocytes – need to be

replaced throughout life by stem cells called oligodendrocyte precursors. If

this fails, then there is a loss of myelin and white matter, resulting in

devastating effects on brain function and cognitive decline. An exciting new

finding of our study is that we have uncovered one of the reasons that this

process is slowed down in the aging brain.”

By improving our understanding of aging brain stem cells, it gives

us a new target to help slow the progression of MS, and could have

important implications for future treatment.

Dr. Emma Gray, Assistant Director of Research at the MS Society

Dr. Rivera, lead author of the study while he was in the University of Portsmouth

and who is now a Fellow at the University of Padua, explained: “By

comparing the genome of a young mouse brain to that of a senile mouse, we

identified which processes are affected by aging. These very sophisticated

analysis allowed us to unravel the reasons why the replenishment of

oligodendrocytes and the myelin they produce is reduced in the aging


“We identified GPR17, the gene associated to these specific precursors, as

the most affected gene in the aging brain and that the loss of GPR17 is

associated to a reduced ability of these precursors to actively work to

replace the lost myelin.”

The work is still very much ongoing and has paved the way for new studies

on how to induce the ‘rejuvenation’ of oligodendrocyte precursor cells to

efficiently replenish lost white matter.

Dr. Azim of the University of Dusseldorf said: “This approach is promising for

targeting myelin loss in the aging brain and demyelination diseases,

including Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and neuropsychiatric

disorders. Indeed, we have only touched the tip of the iceberg and future

investigation from our research groups aim to bring our findings into human

translational settings.”

The image shows myelin and specialized brain stem cells Oligodendrocyte

Progenitor Cells (OPCs) in the grey and white matter of the brain. 

The image depicts myelin (Cyan) and specialised brain stem cells Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells (OPCs) in the grey and white matter of the brain.
Credit: Dr. Andrea Rivera

Dr. Rivera performed the key experiments published in this study while at the

University of Portsmouth and he has been awarded the prestigious MSCA

Seal of Excellence @UniPD Fellowship to translate these findings and

investigate this further in the human brain, in collaboration with Professors

Raffele De Caro, Andrea Porzionato and Veronica Macchi at the Institute of

Human Anatomy of the University of Padua.

The study was funded by grants from the BBSRC and MRC to Professor Butt,

together with the UK and Italian MS Societies (to Professors Butt and

Abbracchio, respectively), and the Swiss National Funds Fellowship and

German Research Council (Dr. Azim). Dr. Andrea Rivera was supported by an

Anatomical Society Ph.D. Studentship (with Professor Butt), and the MSCA

Seal of Excellence @UniPD (Dr. Rivera).

Dr. Emma Gray, Assistant Director of Research at the MS Society, said: “MS

can be relentless and painful, and there are sadly still no treatments to stop

disability progression. We can see a future where no one has to worry about

MS getting worse but, for that to happen, we need to find ways to repair

damaged myelin. This research sheds light on why cells that drive myelin

repair becomes less efficient as we age, and we’re really proud to have helped

fund it. By improving our understanding of aging brain stem cells, it gives

us a new target to help slow the progression of MS, and could have

important implications for future treatment.”

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Enduring Mystery of Muscle Cramps? You’re not Alone - Alex Hutchinson

Any discussion of muscle cramps needs to start by revisiting retired baseball infielder Munenori Kawasaki’s detailed explanation of how he avoided a repeat of the cramp that had hobbled him the previous day.

Kawasaki: Monkey never cramps. Because a monkey eat every day banana. Two.

Interviewer: So how many did you have today?

Kawasaki: Three.

I love that interview so much that it pains me to cast doubt on his advice. It’s based on the traditional view of exercise-associated muscle cramps, which attributes them to dehydration and the loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium (which bananas contain in abundance) from prolonged sweating. That theory dates back almost a century, and it remains dominant: a survey of 344 endurance athletes, published last year, found that 75 percent of them believed that taking extra sodium wards off muscle cramps.

The problem is that science keeps failing to back this theory up. Starting more than a decade ago, a series of studies have compared crampers with non-crampers at marathons, triathlons, and other endurance races and has failed to find any differences in the athletes’ hydration or electrolyte levels. Instead, a rival theory blaming cramps on “altered neuromuscular control” first proposed in the 1990s by Martin Schwellnus, a sports physician at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, has been gaining support. The basic idea: it’s a nerve problem that occurs in excessively fatigued muscles, essentially leaving a switch temporarily stuck in the on position.

But this theory, too, has a problem: unlike the electrolyte theory, it doesn’t give us an obvious solution or countermeasure to prevent cramps. The closest thing so far is a product called HotShot, a spicy drink developed by Flex Pharmaceuticals that triggers some of the same nerve receptors as pickle juice (long known as a folk cure for cramps) and hot peppers. There’s a bit of evidence from a HotShot-funded study published by Penn State researchers in 2017 that this jolt to the nerves makes your muscles a little more cramp-resistant and shortens the duration of cramps stimulated in the lab. But it’s hardly a panacea; even in that study, all the subjects still ended up cramping. Schwellnus himself warned that muscle cramps are a complex phenomenon with many different contributing factors, so we shouldn’t expect a simple solution.

What we’re left with is a search for factors we can control that might influence cramp risk. That’s the goal of a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research from a research team at the University of Valencia and Jaume I University in Spain. It recruited 98 runners preparing for the Valencia Marathon, ran them through a series of tests before and after the race, and looked for differences between crampers and non-crampers. Some of the results were predictable, while others were surprising.

The good news, from the study’s perspective, is that 20 of the runners suffered muscle cramps during or immediately after the race. A total of 84 runners (72 men and 12 women) completed all the pre-and post-race testing, which means that 24 percent of them cramped, with similar rates in men and women. That’s roughly consistent with the stats from other races. Once again, urine and blood tests found no differences in dehydration or electrolyte levels before, during, or after the race.

Instead, the biggest difference was in the blood levels of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, both markers of muscle damage, which were significantly elevated immediately after the race and 24 hours later in the crampers. For example, day-after creatine kinase averaged 2,439 international units per liter. in the crampers compared to 1,167 in the non-crampers. This, too, is consistent with previous studies, suggesting that cramps occur in muscles that are fatigued to the point of damage.

The harder question is what predisposes some runners more than others to this kind of damage. One previous study suggested that crampers actually start the race with elevated muscle damage, perhaps because they didn’t back off their training enough. In this study, though, there was no sign of elevated muscle damage in the pre-race testing and no difference in the amount of time between the final training run and the start of the race.

In fact, most of the training variables the team assessed—the runners’ number of previous marathons, weekly training volume, and so on—were the same in both groups. Just one differed: 48 percent of the non-crampers reported regular lower-body resistance training compared with 25 percent of the crampers.

Another often discussed risk factor for cramps is pacing. A few previous studies have found that runners who end up cramping tend to have started the race more quickly compared to their eventual average pace, suggesting that they’re paying the price for overestimating their fitness. There’s a problem with this type of analysis, however: the cramp may cause the late-race slowdown rather than the other way around.

To get around this issue, the Valencia researchers brought all their subjects in for a VO2-max test prior to the marathon. This allowed them to assess their starting pace relative to their actual fitness instead of relative to their eventual finish time. Here’s what the average speed for each 5K segment looked like for the crampers (black circles) and non-crampers (white circles), as a fraction of speed at VO2 max:(Illustration: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research)

There are no significant differences between the groups until after the 25K mark. If anything, the crampers started a little bit slower relative to their lab-measured fitness. This punctures the idea that cramps are a punishment for bad pacing. I apologize for any cramp-shaming I’ve done in the past: it wasn’t your fault after all. Unless you were neglecting your lower-body strength training, that is. The obvious news-you-can-use nugget from the new study is the apparent protective effect of resistance training. I got the same advice a few years ago from Juan Del Coso, the author of an earlier study that implicated muscle damage in late-race slowdowns: he suggested leg exercises such as squats with loads to up to 80 percent of max to protect your legs from damage.

But at this point, it’s probably worth recalling Schwellnus’s note of caution. People get cramps for all sorts of reasons, including underlying injury, disease, and medication side effects. The exercise-associated cramps you get during a running race may be influenced by some of these secondary factors. They may also be influenced by your genes: one of the best predictors of cramping is whether you’ve cramped in the past. And despite the paucity of evidence, it’s entirely possible that, in some people, traditional risk factors like dehydration or electrolyte depletion may play a role. So before I get too excited about squats as the new miracle cure, I’d like to see whether a few months of strength training actually reduces cramp risk in a randomized trial.

It’s tricky to get those sorts of studies funded, though—there’s no pharmaceutical money, no sports-drink money. So for now, if you’re struggling with recurring cramps, you’re left with trial and error. It’s worth giving strength training a shot (and not just for its cramp benefits). I’d be open to giving HotShot a try, too. And, hey, whatever the evidence says, I love bananas.

For more Sweat Science, join me on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for the email newsletter, and check out my book Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

In Case You’re Still Equivocating?

Vaccinations have been responsible for the demise of polio, smallpox, and a host of pandemic diseases. Presently, it’s not known if once vaccinated, can you still be a carrier. Clearly, people who are attracted to Public Safety jobs have tamped down their aversion to risk. But, it also implies that you’re not stupid. 

Big data has consistently shown the value of Western Medicine. Below is a table of risk for hospitalization and death by age groups. The Latin term Rez Ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) should do the trick. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Coffee Gets a Boost


Coffee used to be blamed for everything from high blood pressure and high cholesterol (and thus heart disease) to pancreatic cancer, fibro-cystic breasts, and bone loss. But, better studies in more recent years have almost always refuted the older findings and have even suggested that this beloved beverage may have health benefits, including reduced risk of melanoma, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, liver disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. 

Still, the findings are not robust enough to recommend that you start drinking coffee, but if you do already, science appears to back your habit. Here are the results of two observational studies from 2020 suggesting beneficial effects of your cup a joe—and one showing a quirkier consequence.

Less body fat. 

Women who regularly drink coffee have less total body and abdominal fat than their coffee- abstaining counterparts. The more coffee the women consumed, including decaf, the greater the effect, as seen on body scans. As has been the case in prior studies, no dose-response relationship was observed in men, possibly for reasons relating to differences in sex hormones, the researchers speculated.

Better heart health and longevity— especially when a filter is used in brewing. A 20-year study linked coffee consumption to overall reduced mortality, compared to abstaining. But, those who drank filtered coffee (one to four cups a day) had the lowest risk of premature death, including from cardiovascular disease. Brewing methods in which ground coffee comes in direct contact with hot water—such as French press or espresso—leave behind higher concentrations of diterpene compounds (kahweol and cafestol) that raise blood cholesterol, whereas a filter traps them, which could partly explain the better results seen in those drinking filtered coffee.

From: Aviation Medical

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

When is ‘dead’ really dead? What happens after a person ‘flatlines’

As an EMT and Paramedic, I’m sure you’ve faced your share of codes. I found this article to be informative (POD)

How long should doctors wait after a “flatline” appears before they can declare a person dead? How can they be sure that heartbeat and circulation will not return?

The most common way that people die is after their heart stops beating. However, there is limited evidence for how long to wait to determine death once the heart stops. This missing information has repercussions for clinical practice and for organ donation.

A fundamental principle of organ donation is the dead donor rule: donors must be dead prior to recovery of organs, and organ recovery must not be the cause of death. A lack of evidence about how long to wait before declaring death creates a tension: if doctors wait too long after the heart stops, the quality of organs begins to decline.

On the other hand, not waiting long enough introduces the risk of going ahead with organ recovery before death has actually occurred.

Our interdisciplinary team of doctors, bio-engineers and experienced clinical researchers has spent the past decade studying what happens when a person dies after their heart stops. We focused on patients in the intensive care unit who died after life support was withdrawn, since these patients may also be eligible for organ donation.

In particular, we were interested in understanding whether it is possible for the heart to restart on its own, without any interventions like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or medication.
A closer look at end-of-life flatline

Our recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, presents observations of the dying process of 631 patients across Canada, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands who died in an intensive care unit. All patients’ families consented to participate in the research.

In addition to collecting medical information about each patient, we built a computer program to capture and review heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation level and respiratory patterns directly from bedside monitors. As a result, we were able to analyze end-of-life flatline patterns for 480 out of 631 patients — including looking at whether and when any circulation or heart activity returned after stopping for at least one minute.

Vital Signs @ 8X

This video shows arterial blood pressure and electrocardiogram signals stop for 64 seconds before resuming, and finally stopping nearly three minutes later. The video is sped up eight times.

As it turns out, the classic flatline of death is not so straightforward. We found that human heart activity often stops and restarts a number of times during a normal dying process.

Out of 480 “flatline” signals reviewed, we found a stop-and-start pattern in 67 (14 percent). The longest that the heart stopped before restarting on its own was four minutes and 20 seconds. The longest time that heart activity continued after restarting was 27 minutes, but most restarts lasted just one to two seconds. None of the patients we observed survived or regained consciousness.

We also found it was common for the heart to continue to show electrical activity long after blood flow or pulse stopped. The human heart functions as a result of electrical stimulation of nerves that causes the heart muscle to contract and contribute to blood flow — the pulse you can feel in your arteries and veins.

We found that the heart rate (electrical stimulation leading to movement of the heart muscle) and pulse (movement of blood in the veins) only stopped together in 19 percent of patients. In some cases, the electrical activity of the heart continued for over 30 minutes without resulting in any circulation of blood.
Why understanding death matters

The results of our study are important for a few reasons.

First, the observation that stops and restarts of heart activity and circulation are often part of the natural process of dying will be reassuring to doctors, nurses and family members at the bedside. Intermittent signals on bedside monitors can sometimes be alarming if observers interpret them as signs that life is unexpectedly returning. Our study provides evidence that stops and starts are to be expected during a normal dying process without CPR, and that they do not lead to regained consciousness or survival. Flatline resumption: heart activity stops and starts during the natural process of dying. Author provided

Second, our finding that the longest pause before heart activity restarted on its own was four minutes and 20 seconds supports the current practice of waiting five minutes after circulation stops before declaring death and proceeding to organ recovery. This helps to reassure organ donation organizations that practices of determination of death are safe and appropriate.

Our results will be used to better inform policy and guidelines for the practice of organ donation internationally. For donation systems to work, when someone is declared dead, there must be trust that the declaration is really true. Trust allows families to choose donation in a time of grief and allows the medical community to ensure the safe and consistent end of life care.

This study is also important for improving our broader understanding of the natural history of death. We have shown that figuring out when dead is really dead is perhaps not so simple. It requires careful observation and close physiologic monitoring of the patient. In addition, it requires an understanding that, just as in life, there are many patterns that the dying process can take.

Our work is a step towards appreciating the complexity of dying and suggests we must move beyond the idea of a straightforward flatline to indicate when death has occurred.

This article was co-authored by Laura Hornby, research manager and consultant at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and Canadian Blood Services, and Nathan Scales, a biomedical engineer and research associate at the Dynamical Analysis Lab at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

4 Theories About Overtraining

Maybe the debilitating effects of chronic overtraining syndrome are in your muscles after all, not your head or your hormones

From Outside Magazine
Alex Hutchinson

May 28, 2020

There’s no shortage of theories about overtraining syndrome, a state of pervasive fatigue and poor performance that lasts months or years and sometimes ends athletic careers. In fact, there are too many theories. It’s psychological, it’s neurological, it’s adrenal, it’s hormonal, it’s immunological, it’s cardiovascular—it seems to affect pretty much every system in the body, which makes it hard to pinpoint the cause.

A new paper from a group led by Johanna Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden presents the case for a seemingly obvious culprit: the muscles themselves. Writing in the journal Redox Biology, they explore four main theories for what might go wrong within your muscles after a prolonged period of heavy training that could lead to long-term changes like those seen in overtraining syndrome. If they’re right, it suggests some possible countermeasures against overtraining—but that’s a big if.

From the muscle’s perspective, training is a constant cycle of stress and recovery. A hard workout causes all sorts of metabolic and structural disruptions in your muscle fibers, which in turn trigger adaptations that occur during the recovery period and make you stronger and fitter. These perturbations are good when they’re temporary, but if they become chronic—for example, because you’re not recovering enough between workouts—then they make you weaker and more fatigued.

It’s not just your maximum strength that’s affected; even relatively light submaximal exercise like a jog feels harder. This effect can last for days or even weeks after a single killer workout, an effect known as “prolonged low-frequency force depression,” or PLFFD. Intriguingly, studies with single muscle fibers from rodents also exhibit PLFFD. These muscle fibers obviously aren’t depressed or hormonally imbalanced—there must be some sort of prolonged disruption within the muscle fiber itself. Since overtraining in some ways looks like a chronic version of PLFFD that won’t switch off, Lanner and her colleagues suggest that overtraining, too, may involve problems in the muscle.

Here are the four leading muscle-related explanations of overtraining they consider:
Glycogen Depletion

This one is pretty straightforward: maybe chronic depletion of glycogen, the form in which muscle fibers store carbohydrate, interferes with the ability of those fibers to generate force and ultimately leads to what we experience as overtraining. It almost seems too simple, but it’s actually quite plausible that athletes who are training at truly extreme levels—i.e. those most vulnerable to overtraining syndrome—have trouble keeping up with their bodies’ fuel needs. That’s what a study on ketone drinks suggested last year: the apparent ability of these drinks to ward off overtraining was linked to increased calorie intake.

Lanner and her colleagues aren’t convinced, though. They point out that a study in rats failed to prevent overtraining despite aggressive carbohydrate supplementation. Not getting enough carbohydrate may contribute to overtraining, but getting enough, on its own, doesn’t seem to prevent it.

Muscle Damage
This is the classic explanation for next-day soreness: a hard workout, especially something like downhill running or box jumps that involves a lot of eccentric contractions, causes little microtears and other physical damage to your muscle fibers. Normally this damage gets repaired and ultimately leaves you stronger—unless the balance between damage and repair is chronically tilted too far toward the former.

Not so fast, though. While the link between damaged muscle fibers and weaker muscles seems intuitively obvious, studies don’t seem to find a good correlation between the amount of visible damage and the decline in function, according to Lanner and her colleagues. The damage is there, but it doesn’t seem to directly cause the problems.

Inflammation and Cytokines
This may sound a little familiar from all the recent discussion of cytokine storms in                                                     COVID-19. A similar idea applies here: a limited amount of inflammation (which is induced by small proteins called cytokines) is a normal part of both immune responses and post-exercise muscle repair, but too much can inflict further damage. After repeated strenuous exercise with insufficient recovery, you can end up with chronically elevated cytokine levels and inflammation, which in turn interferes with muscle function.

Furthermore, this inflammatory response could start a vicious cycle: cytokines also lead to an increase in oxidative stress, which in turn triggers the release of more inflammation-promoting cytokines, which increases oxidative stress, and so on—which brings us to the heart of Lanner’s argument.
Oxidative Stress

There’s a reason this paper was published in Redox Biology, which is a rather specialized journal. Even though the authors present four theories, their main interest is in the idea that oxidative stress—the excessive presence of damaging molecules called reactive oxygen species—is a key driver of decreased muscle function in overtraining syndrome.

It’s true, according to at least some studies, that overtrained athletes display elevated levels of oxidative stress. You might think that there’s a simple solution to this: take antioxidant supplements, which neutralize reactive oxygen species. But it turns out that the role of oxidative stress in the body is fiendishly complicated. Like inflammation, oxidative stress also serves as a key signal telling your body to adapt and get fitter after exercise, so eliminating it can have negative effects. While the topic is still being debated among researchers, there’s considerable evidence that regular use of antioxidant supplements can blunt the gains you’d normally get from a training program.

Typically, rested muscle stays in a slightly “reduced” state. That’s the opposite of being oxidized, meaning it has gained rather than lost electrons. When you start exercising, that generates oxidative stress, which actually puts your muscle into an optimal balance between reduction and oxidation, maximizing the amount of force you can generate. But if you exercise too hard or too long, the amount of oxidation becomes too much and muscle performance decreases again.

Lanner and her colleagues provide a schematic diagram to illustrate this delicate balance between reduced and oxidized muscles:
(Photo: Courtesy Redox Biology)

Normally, you’re sitting slightly to the left on this diagram, at “Rested muscle.” If you start exercising, you move to the middle, at “Optimal exercise redox balance.” If you push too hard, you keep moving to the right, to “Exercise-induced fatigue.” Allow yourself to recover, then everything will be fine—but if you keep pushing, you’ll end up on the far right, at “Chronic disease and Overtraining.”

If you start popping a daily dose of vitamin C or other antioxidants, you move left on the curve. Under normal circumstances, you end up on the far left, at “Rested muscle + Antioxidants.” That’s not ideal, because then you can’t get to that optimal balance in the middle during workouts, which is why routine use of antioxidants isn’t a good idea for athletes. But if you’re on the border of overtraining, the risks and benefits may be different.

Lanner and her colleagues acknowledge the risks associated with supplementation, but suggest that if an athlete on the edge of overtraining syndrome is in a state of chronically elevated oxidative stress—the kind of thing you see in rheumatoid arthritis and Duchenne muscle dystrophy—then antioxidants may help. The same thing may apply to anti-inflammatory drugs: a bad idea under normal circumstances, but possibly helpful in the face of chronic inflammation.

Key caveat? Of the 122 references cited in the article, a majority seem to involve rats. That’s an important and useful way to figure out how muscle fibers work, but any real advice about how athletes should train needs to be based on studies of athlete's training. Still, I think the focus on what’s happening in the muscles is an interesting and perhaps underappreciated aspect of overtraining. And the idea that antioxidants are a bad idea on a routine basis but useful in times of unusually high stress—a training camp, a trip to altitude—has been floating around among elite athletes for a while.

For now, though, I think the most important weapon to keep in mind is the one Lanner and her colleagues mention at the start of their section on prevention and treatment: “carefully planned training programs that include regular monitoring by coaches and the athletes themselves to assess adaptation to training over both the short and long term.” Put more simply: if you’re really, really tired and seem to be getting slower, take a break rather than a pill.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

And Then There’s This: Bagpipes on Thunderstruck?

 The Bagpipe Version

You have just got to watch this: Buddhist Monk doing AC/DC “Thunderstruck”

This Buddhist Monk Performing AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' Is The Best Thing You'll See On The Internet Today

It may be a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, but Japanese Buddhist monk Kossan1108 makes it look easy.