Tuesday, January 31, 2023

For longevity, muscle strength may be as important as aerobic exercise

Washington Post January 31, 2023 - Ian McHanan While aerobic exercise has long taken the lead in physical activity guidelines, researchers are finding that biceps curls and bench presses might be equally important for health and longevity. Strength training — exercise that increases muscle strength by making muscles work against a weight or force (such as gravity) — was added to the 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. In a recent meta-analysis combining 16 studies and data from over 1.5 million subjects, muscle-strengthening activities were associated with almost a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, lung cancer and all-cause mortality. “Strength training confers a host of health benefits independent of aerobic exercise,” said Daniel J. McDonough, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and co-author of a large study that looked at the effect of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise on mortality. Adding some muscle also improves physical fitness and bone mineral density and reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury. Running, swimming, playing soccer and other aerobic exercise do a lot for the cardiovascular system — our heart and blood vessels — but they don’t do much for overall muscle mass or strength. Perhaps most important for health, studies have found that strength training improves the body’s response to insulin and, therefore, leads to better control of blood sugar after meals — which means a reduced risk of diabetes or insulin resistance, conditions that can harm the heart and cardiovascular system by thickening the heart wall and increasing arterial plaque formation. Also, emerging evidence shows contracting skeletal muscles produce myokines, which are small strings of amino acids existing between muscles and the rest of the body that can help regulate various metabolic processes conducive to better cardiometabolic health, McDonough says. German researchers last spring reported that “by stimulating the skeletal muscle in a certain way, we can make use of this cross talk and improve health.” Because aging and inactivity tend to reduce muscle mass, resistance training is even more crucial for older adults as it helps slow the natural loss of muscle mass with age, McDonough says. Reducing muscle loss with advanced age is crucial to maintaining independence and helping older adults stay active. This also lowers the risk of chronic disease from disability and inactivity. Strength training appears to have positive effects on brain health and function, perhaps decreasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, experts say. Michael Valenzuela is a researcher at the University of New South Wales and one of the leaders of a study that looked at the effect of resistance exercise on cognitive function and brain structure in 100 subjects with mild cognitive impairment. He found that strength training appeared to protect areas of the brain, specifically the hippocampus, normally targeted by Alzheimer’s. That may give strength training a potential role in prevention of the disease, Valenzuela says. “We also found these changes mediated better general cognitive performance in those older people that did the training, so it was not just an incidental finding,” he says. A 2022 study in JAMA Network Open based on the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging found that the presence of low muscle mass was associated with faster future cognitive function decline in adults at least 65 years old. The researchers theorized that greater muscle mass may result in more physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness, which leads to more blood flow to the brain. So how much strength training is enough? The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends two or more strength-training sessions each week. Ideally, the sessions should include four to six different exercises that use as many muscle groups as possible (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). For each exercise, complete 10 to 12 repetitions two to three times. "We found that just 1-3 hours per week of moderate exercise — brisk walking and/or vigorous aerobic exercise such as [high intensity interval training] training — and just 1-2 times per week of strength exercise substantially reduced the risk of death by all-causes,” McDonough says. Given that walking to the bus or store counts, most people should be able to get in 60 minutes a week of aerobic exercise, McDonough says. And the two sessions of strength training doesn’t have to be at the gym, he adds. They can be with any form of resistance, such as gravity, hand weights, resistance bands, or even water bottles or cans from the cupboard, or hefting grocery bags. So cardio or weights or both? If you’re looking to live longer, doing both is your best bet, experts say. “We consistently found that the greatest health benefits, whether it was reduced risk of death or chronic diseases or improvement in risk factors like blood pressure or cholesterol, were seen among people who performed both types of exercise rather than one or the other,” said Angelique Brellenthin, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and co-author of a recent review article titled “Aerobic or Muscle-Strengthening Exercise: Which is Better for Health?” The review found that while aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise independently reduced the risk of death by all causes, people who hit the cardio and the weights realized the largest benefit, including an approximately 40 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality and 50 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Ukraine’s resilience sets a global standard

THE Washington Post
By Ishaan Tharoor
with Sammy Westfall

Ukraine’s resilience sets a global standard

A Ukrainian service member smokes next to an armored personnel carrier on a road in Kherson region, Ukraine, on Friday. (Anna Voitenko/Reuters)

A year ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a somewhat unpopular leader in Kyiv, viewed by his critics as a lightweight jokester. Now, in the wake of Russia’s February invasion, the wartime president is a global icon, a Ukrainian national hero, the world’s prolific video-conferencer and, yes, the least surprising figure in recent memory to receive the designation of Time’s Person of the Year.

The international admiration for Zelensky is ultimately about much more than the man himself. His stoicism and courage seem to project the spirit of a nation that has withstood the Russian onslaught for close to 10 months at a hideous cost in lives and resources. It’s now hunkering down for a possibly punishing winter, as Russia has carried out targeted strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure. At any given moment, by some measures, at least 2 million and as many as 10 million Ukrainians are living without electricity, plunged in a cold, enveloping darkness. As my colleagues reported, even then, many Ukrainians are not letting their Kremlin-inflicted woes darken their moods.

Since the conflict flared, Zelensky and his allies have insisted their battle is not simply a defense of their own territory, but of a larger civilizational struggle, pitting their liberal aspirations and fledgling democracy against the tyranny and authoritarianism embodied by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“We are dealing with a powerful state that is pathologically unwilling to let Ukraine go,” Zelensky told Time’s Simon Shuster, suggesting that the Kremlin could not countenance a Ukraine that rejected its sphere of influence. “They see the democracy and freedom of Ukraine as a question of their own survival.”

Zelensky echoed what he and many other Ukrainians have been saying for months, that they were fighting on the behalf of other democracies vulnerable to Russia’s predations: “If they devour us, the sun in your sky will get dimmer.”

On Tuesday, dozens of nations at an international conference in Paris rallied around Ukraine. They pledged more than $1 billion in additional aid to support Ukraine in the near term, including to help boost its battered energy grid and other aspects of its civilian infrastructure.

“Over $440 million of the total aid pledged is expected to be directed to Ukraine’s energy network. French officials said the final amount would likely rise,” my colleagues reported. “In a video address earlier on Tuesday, Zelensky urged the international community to make maintaining the country’s energy supply a priority, calling for over at least $850 million in aid for the sector.”

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Ukraine’s “bravery and determination,” and said that the work of the conference in the French capital is “tangible evidence that Ukraine is not alone.”

Kyiv is still adamant that it needs more arms and weapons to repel Russia’s offensives and reclaim more of its lost territory. “Given the scale of the war and Russia’s unwillingness to accept the reality and withdraw from Ukraine, we will need to fight through the winter,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters. He added that Russia’s strikes on civilian targets and Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were a mark of its broader military failure.

“Such barbarism is Russia’s response to losing the war on the battleground,” Kuleba said. “They have suffered a number of humiliating defeats.”

Ukraine has also been on the receiving end of a mammoth flow of Western weapons and military aid. On Tuesday, my colleagues reported that the Biden administration was preparing to send the Patriot missile system — its most sophisticated air defense technology — to Ukraine.

Western support for Kyiv is holding, no matter the fears over war fatigue of many countries that were deepened by the wider economic impact of the war and the energy sanctions placed on Russia’s economy.

“Among the many miscalculations that Putin has made is his bet that the invasion of Ukraine would strain relations among his adversaries,” wrote German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a recent op-ed for Foreign Affairs. “In fact, the reverse has happened: the EU and the transatlantic alliance are stronger than ever before.”

Thousands of miles away, officials from another country facing up to a revanchist neighbor are taking notes. The war in Ukraine has echoed in the island state of Taiwan, which is constantly in the shadow of China and subject to an escalating series of provocations from the mainland. The leadership in Beijing, not dissimilarly from Putin’s stance on Ukraine, views Taiwan as an illegitimate state bound to return to the Chinese fold.

To Taiwan, Ukraine’s defiance of Russia is a source of inspiration and a template for their own survival. “Ukraine showed very great determination to defend their territory and it’s clear that Ukrainians have a very resilient civil society, which helped resist invasion,” Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Ming-Yen Tsai told me on the sidelines of a major international security conference in Halifax, Canada, last month. He added that watching Ukraine’s struggle has inspired Taiwan to implement major long-term military reforms, including extending the period of compulsory military service expected of its citizens.

While a Chinese maritime invasion of Taiwan would look very different than Russia’s land campaigns in Ukraine, Taiwanese officials have seized the moment as one to galvanize international support for their cause and sound the alarm over the challenges confronting them.

“We are already facing warfare without gun smoke on a daily basis,” Tsai said, pointing to China’s “hybrid warfare” tactics, its use of escalating forms of military intimidation through naval exercises and aerial incursions, as well as cyberstrikes and online disinformation campaigns.

“If we do not hold ground at this point,” Tsai said, “China will test the bottom line, step by step, to create a new normal, and step by step, keep changing the status quo” until Taiwan’s sovereignty will be all the more fragile.

The experience of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Tsai said, “shows that authoritarian countries have no qualms invading other countries’ territory, revising national borders and challenging the rules-based international order.” He added that, for Taiwan, the lesson is to prepare now for an invasion rather than when it’s too late.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

HARRISON BERGERON- a classic satire

by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel's cheeks, but she'd forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

"That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did," said Hazel.

"Huh" said George.

"That dance-it was nice," said Hazel.

"Yup," said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn't be handicapped. But he didn't get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

"Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer," said George.

"I'd think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds," said Hazel a little envious. "All the things they think up."

"Um," said George.

"Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?" said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. "If I was Diana Moon Glampers," said Hazel, "I'd have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion."

"I could think, if it was just chimes," said George.

"Well-maybe make 'em real loud," said Hazel. "I think I'd make a good Handicapper General."

"Good as anybody else," said George.

"Who knows better than I do what normal is?" said Hazel.

"Right," said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

"Boy!" said Hazel, "that was a doozy, wasn't it?"

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, and were holding their temples.

"All of a sudden you look so tired," said Hazel. "Why don't you stretch out on the sofa, so's you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch." She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George's neck. "Go on and rest the bag for a little while," she said. "I don't care if you're not equal to me for a while."

George weighed the bag with his hands. "I don't mind it," he said. "I don't notice it anymore. It's just a part of me."

"You been so tired lately-kind of wore out," said Hazel. "If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few."

"Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out," said George. "I don't call that a bargain."

"If you could just take a few out when you came home from work," said Hazel. "I mean-you don't compete with anybody around here. You just sit around."

"If I tried to get away with it," said George, "then other people'd get away with it-and pretty soon we'd be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn't like that, would you?"

"I'd hate it," said Hazel.

"There you are," said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?"

If Hazel hadn't been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn't have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

"Reckon it'd fall all apart," said Hazel.

"What would?" said George blankly.

"Society," said Hazel uncertainly. "Wasn't that what you just said?

"Who knows?" said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn't clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen."

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

"That's all right-" Hazel said of the announcer, "he tried. That's the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard."

"Ladies and Gentlemen," said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. "Excuse me-" she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

"Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen," she said in a grackle squawk, "has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous."

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison's appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

"If you see this boy," said the ballerina, "do not - I repeat, do not - try to reason with him."

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have - for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. "My God-" said George, "that must be Harrison!"

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood - in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

"I am the Emperor!" cried Harrison. "Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!" He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

"Even as I stand here" he bellowed, "crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!"

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison's scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

"I shall now select my Empress!" he said, looking down on the cowering people. "Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!"

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

"Now-" said Harrison, taking her hand, "shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!" he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. "Play your best," he told them, "and I'll make you barons and dukes and earls."

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons' television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. "You been crying" he said to Hazel.

"Yup," she said.

"What about?" he said.

"I forget," she said. "Something real sad on television."

"What was it?" he said.

"It's all kind of mixed up in my mind," said Hazel.

"Forget sad things," said George.

"I always do," said Hazel.

"That's my girl," said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

"Gee - I could tell that one was a doozy," said Hazel.

"You can say that again," said George.

"Gee-" said Hazel, "I could tell that one was a doozy."

"Harrison Bergeron" is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.