Aug 6, 2017

EFFECTIVE, SAFE AND SUSTAINABLE EXERCISE

As anyone who knows me, has read my blog or is connected to me via social media would probably know, I am an exercise enthusiast.


I've read well over 100 exercise related books by now, countless articles, participated in numerous online forums, attended seminars, been to personal trainers, paid for phone consultations, have trained others and even took a shot at competitive bodybuilding.


I started exercising regularly about 1981.


While not claiming that an of this makes me an expert, I do feel my opinions are somewhat informed.


So as my title indicates, I want to talk about effectiveness, safety and sustainability when it comes to exercise and how, without all three, your exercise program may, if not in the short term, than definitely in the long term, do you more harm than good.


So first, effectiveness because, believe it or not, I think that's the easy one. Virtually every "exercise like activity" will produce results. Note that doesn't mean that anything is better than doing nothing but I will come back to that when I get to safety and sustainability.


Some benefits will be derived from walking programs, running and other steady state activities, and I believe even far more significant benefits will come from resistance training whether it be calisthenics, free weights or machine based. Playing sports will also yield conditioning benefits as will gardening or other manual labour. Obviously the variation in effectiveness from this list will be quite broad.


Next I'm going to point out that the actual benefits of even the best exercise, have been vastly exaggerated and/or misrepresented. This is either from cognitive errors (selection bias) or commercial interests/unethical motives.

Selection bias, in that we make the natural mistake of confusing correlation with causation. Very fit people, including world class athletes, body building champions and magazine cover models do exercise, however their superlative results have more to do with having the right parents than their specific exercise regimens, and copying their programs will not yield anywhere near the same results for the genetically average or below average. They are, by definition, extreme outliers. In fact, I think a strong argument could be made that their results, in many cases are achieved DESPITE the programs they espouse rather than BECAUSE of them. (The evidence you see vs the evidence you don't see: We see the gold medalist, we don't see the dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands of others who suffered acute or chronic career ending injuries as a result of trying to follow similar programs). As far as commercial interests coupled with lack of ethics, these outliers can and have been paraded as examples of what you can achieve if you only buy the right supplement, or use the right machine, etc.

Having said that, the actual results that can be achieved from exercise are truly impressive and may be even more important to each of us individually.

Exercise ranks in importance with proper sleep and nutrition, in that it truly is necessary for life, but for 90% or more of us (99%?) , it will not turn us into magazine cover material or make us impervious to disease, injury or old age.

It can, however, from a a health standpoint, put the odds in our favour, and dramatically improve our appearance. (Diet is obviously also important but will leave for another post)

Side note: I will be honest, and I doubt I'm alone, health should be my primary motivator, but I don't kid myself, appearance is a bigger source of motivation for me, and the health benefits are an extremely nice bonus. (Read book "The Red Queen" and see how sex is central to almost all motivation)


Back to health, let's say that some genetic test was suggested you had a very high likelihood of getting heart disease, say 2 out of 3 odds in your lifetime. Perhaps (I'm using numbers to make a point and making no claims as to their specific validity) exercise could improve that to 1 out of 3. 1 out of 3 still sucks and is far from invincibility but that is still a dramatic improvement. And maybe the first heart attack, if it comes, will do so a decade later, be less life threatening and your recovery may be quicker.

These are important benefits despite nowhere near the invincibility that is too often implied and leads people to delusional assumptions. "But I work out regularly, how could this happen to me?"


Most importantly, in my opinion, is the extension of years of functional ability that can be obtained from proper exercise. Using the washroom unaided and being able to play with your grandchildren is pretty amazing and something you would really miss. (My personal goal is to dance at my great grandson's wedding. I have a 19 year old grandson now, and at 58, this goal is possible)


As for looks, my advice is, don't compare with magazine cover models or elite professional athletes, which is unattainable for almost everyone (including many of the actual models who are photo shopped or hit a "peak" they do not come close to maintaining all year round, not to mention drug use).


Rather, sit in a mall and watch how many people are in horrible condition and focus on how much better you can look from that standard! Almost everyone CAN attain this.

(Note: you should really only compare to yourself at another point in time as, whether it is fitness, financial success or any other aspect of life, it is much healthier to just strive to be your best rather than trying to "beat others". I'm just using comparisons to provide context and manage expectations.)

So, how does exercise actually provide benefits, and what are those benefits.... that is a complex question, and I am going to offer an admittedly oversimplified answer. That answer is: either by producing muscle hypertrophy or preventing sarcopenia..... in other words building muscle or preventing you from losing it as you age. Now muscle is both a benefit and a cause of other benefits.

Muscle provides the "shape" that improves appearance, the functional ability that will allow me to dance at my great grandson's wedding, and it has many hormonal effects that produce a myriad of health benefits. (beyond the scope of a blog post)

(Note: in this blog, I will not engage in a lengthy discussion of strength vs so called cardiovascular fitness vs flexibility but I will acknowledge I'm oversimplifying, albeit, building muscle, I submit, should always be a central if not THE central goal of exercise. I may elaborate more in a future blog post)

So in the end, an exercise program's effectiveness for the purpose of this particular post, will be defined simply by its potential for building or maintaining muscle. A bed ridden hospital patient loses muscle to the point of not being able to walk, and for that individual, recovering that lost muscle will come from extremely minimal exercise. Anything above being bed ridden will have some benefit in that sense.

Different modalities will be more or less efficient in building muscle. Walking or running will make your legs stronger, but nowhere near as efficiently as leg presses, squats or some other targeted strength training. I doubt this point is very controversial.

So strength training typically has some basic tenets that most people can agree on. (here I'm ignoring safety, or sustainability and simply focusing on the potential to build or maintain muscle)

It should involve significant effort. In other words, it should feel like hard work, therefore providing a stimulus for the body to adapt.
It should allow for sufficient recovery between workouts, therefore allowing the body to actualize the adaptation to above stimulus.

Any program, I suggest that has the above will build muscle. Most programs will get people to 90% or more of their genetic potential in a relatively short time, perhaps in the first year or two. For all but competitive athletes 90-95% of your potential is all you will ever need to look better, feel better and be functional into your old age. The other 5-10% can make the difference in a competition, or, for people who just want to be the very best they can be, it can provide an ongoing goal that motivates them, but is not necessary for most of us.

In fact, in the quest for that last bit of improvement, there is significant evidence to suggest that fitness and health may in fact start going in different directions. Elite athletes may in fact pay a very high price for that extra fraction of a second that may win them a gold medal or a lucrative professional contract.

Of course the caveat, to my earlier statement that virtually any reasonably sensible strength training program will get you to 90-95% of your potential is, that it will only do so if you actually stick to it. That is where I move to the aspects of safety and sustainability.

Safety obviously means avoiding injury, but I will go further and specify that injuries can be acute (damaging your lower back while doing deadlifts) or chronic, (destroying your knees from repetitive impacts from running). The latter of course will have to do with sustainability which I will discuss shortly. Ironically, I mentioned earlier that one of the major benefits of exercise is the extension of the functional ability into our senior years. If I've wrecked my spine or my knees, it will likely be impossible for me to dance at my great grandson's wedding. So unsafe exercise practices may help you look better for the beach next summer, but that won't mean much if you need help going to the washroom in your senior years.

So, one of the main ways that injury occurs is when the force exerted on either a muscle, tendon or ligament surpasses its structural integrity. This excessive force can be caused by either improper leverage, (poor form), excessively fast movements (which increase force) or too heavy a load. Often an injury results from one or combination of two of the three factors mentioned, and of course how often (repetitiveness) the connective tissue is exposed to such, either in a given workout or exercise, or cumulatively over time, will compound the risks.

Ideally, one would have great form, and low momentum, which will allow for a lighter load to be more challenging and thus be safer. Unfortunately, in many cases, one or two of these is emphasized in order to counter the lack of the other one or two.

For example with certain sports such as powerlifting or olympic weight lifting, the goal is to have maximum load, and the execution requires momentum, so the safety factor depends solely on proper form, but the degree of safety in this or any activity will be compromised to the extent that any one or more of these factors is missing. With all three missing, it is a recipe for disaster. It should also be noted that even with all three addressed, we are minimizing but not eliminating the chances of injury. However, not exercising at all, is the greater risk, so the idea is to put the risk/benefit ratio as much in our favour as possible.

Interestingly, modalities that may seem diametrically opposed are often wholly condemned by opposing "camps", but I would suggest that each might learn from the other. Crossfit (which often involves high loads and high momentum) could learn from Superslow/HIT enthusiasts who emphasize minimizing momentum, but by the same token, I believe that conversely SS/HIT practitioners (particularly when they train themselves) are able to seemingly "get away" with less than ideal form because the low momentum and load is more forgiving and seems to allow for this.

Anecdotally, while there are fewer injuries during actual execution of SS/HIT workouts, some have reported hurting themselves more easily during recreational or sports activities, if they haven't engaged in these previously. I speculate this may be because they (I) may have been performing exercise over years with improper shoulder positions (just one example) unwittingly creating a weak link.

Because of the high load and momentum, many Crossfit coaches have had to, by necessity, focus on very specific details on form and I believe, the empasis on reducing the high incidence of injury may result in giving the rest of us additional information on how to even further minimize injuries by ensuring we haven't fallen into a rut, due to low momentum/load allowing us to have our form degrade over time.

(Side note: advice to HIT/SS folks who train themselves:

either reduce your weight and focus on being so strict that you achieve momentary muscular fatigue as quickly as possible despite the light load or
have a knowledgeable trainer at least occasionally supervise your workout and point out discrepancies.)

I speculate there may be an argument to be made for engaging in some degree of high force activities to strengthen certain connective tissue, but I'm not convinced the risk/benefit ratio warrants this, and at best I would suggest to proceed with extreme caution as I'm really not sure about this, but just thinking out loud.

Having said that, one may play sports or participate in other activities, either for recreation or because their jobs require it, or just because you need to help someone move furniture. Taking out your high performance car onto a track and driving it at maximum speed occasionally will stress that car, and potentially cause it problems, but then, what's the point of having that car if you just keep it in the garage?

So if you do play a sport because you enjoy it, or your work requires a higher risk activity, I would suggest that maximizing your strength with a safe program will have a protective feature in minimizing injury during those activities, and if there is some benefit from high force, that may be a side benefit, but I would hesitate to encourage anyone from exposing themselves to high force, unless there is an activity they enjoy enough to knowingly take the risk (I play hockey once a week) or because it is necessary for your occupation.

As a side note before moving to sustainability, material for a future blog post might be also to emphasize frequent movement during the day, being very careful of posture, and excessive sitting, particularly when staring at a computer screen, or when using mobile devices, as I believe that additional attention over and above proper exercise is required or one may wind up with chronic issues despite the very best exercise programs, in this world of spending too much time at a desk. I like the book: "Deskbound: Standing up to a Sitting World" which I'm in the middle of reading.

As far as sustainability goes, first of all, there is a major overlap with safety which should be self-evident, in that, if you have an acute or chronic injury, not only will your ability to exercise over time be compromised but may be negated altogether. It is pretty obvious that this will not only negate any benefits but in the end, mean that you may have been better off never taking it on in the first place.

The fact is that most exercise modalities that are popular today will almost inevitably lead to acute or chronic injury. Ironically, most people's adherence to programs is terrible, so most people give up before, at least the chronic injuries.

Everyone knows about the new year's resolution syndrome where commercial gym parking lots are full in January, but by March or April are often empty. I don't know the actual numbers but I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of the population does not exercise regularly. (and most of those who do will tell you about their shoulder, knee or low back issues, it they're honest)

Some will suggest that the low adherence to regular exercise, is a reflection on people's lack of commitment and discipline, I think, this is a very incomplete answer, that best serves to make self-righteous fitness buffs feel superior.

Most programs suggest that you exercise several times a week and do so for an hour or more each time. It is my strong opinion, that the vast majority of people with significant family and career commitments will not stick to this over time.

Even if it could be shown that such programs were vastly superior, what would it really matter if people couldn't stick to them?

My earlier point that virtually any relatively sensible resistance exercise will bring everyone to 90-95% of your genetic potential within a year or two, means that "superior" or "inferior" results, really only means that one would reach their genetic potential earlier or later, but since, by definition you cannot exceed your genetic potential, and the goal is to exercise for life, how much does this really matter? (yes, epigenetics suggests that we may be able to influence our genetic potential to some degree, but the extent to which this is possible is still limited)

So, all else being equal, if your program requires minimum time investment it will, obviously be more sustainable than one that requires a large time investment.

Correspondingly, if your program emphasizes the minimization of acute and chronic injuries, it will obviously be more sustainable than one with a higher risk of injury.

The overlap between the top two points also is that minimal time commitment also means less injuries from repetitive movements over time. On this point, a side note on skill acquisition. If one practices a sport, skill practice almost surely requires a large time commitment, and one should recognize that this will increase odds of chronic injury and do their best to alleviate this. One obvious way, in my opinion is to minimize the odds of injury from ensuring one's actual conditioning program be as brief as possible, thus keeping overall repetitiveness lower. For this reason, your conditioning should be distinct from your skill acquisition.

So, in the end, what do I do? I exercise once a week, doing 3-7 exercises for one set to momentary muscular fatigue, with an emphasis on proper form and minimizing momentum by moving slowly and paying specific attention to turnarounds (the part of a repetition where you change directions which is where injury potential is highest). I would also encourage taking minimal rest between sets to have a greater metabolic benefit.

I also play hockey once a week but this is for recreation, and while I know I'm exposing myself to risk of injury, I enjoy this, and I believe hockey was all about HIIT before High Intensity Interval Training was cool, and it has been shown that short bursts of intense exercise provide equal or similar benefits than drawn out steady state activities. Doing it on a hockey rink is far riskier than just taking minimal rest between sets in my strength training program, but hockey is something I love and willingly and knowingly take on the additional risk to participate in.

I occasionally will do a second weekly workout or a set of pushups, chins etc. Not sure I derive any benefit from this, but I do like "testing" my strength by seeing how many I can do. This is likely more about ego than anything else.

Now, if you work out several hours per week, (and have been doing so consistently for at least 10 years), and you feel that what you are doing is "effective, safe and sustainable" than great, and more power to you. If you feel that you are getting good ROI for that extra time, (and "just because you enjoy it" is good enough for me) than it is not my intention to tell you what you're doing is wrong, but perhaps just to give you some food for thought.

As a final note, I believe, even among proponents of what I've described as sensible exercise, there is an immense amount of "hair splitting" where people debate the relative value of different tools (various machines or free weights), exercise details (how many reps, sets, etc., use of forced reps and ad nauseum), the relative need of for variety or lack thereof.

At the end of the day, if some of these things keep things interesting and help people stick to their program, then I'm all in favour, and of course, if they contribute to safety than, I'm even more in favour, but I've long since stopped caring if, for example, a machine has an ideal strength curve, or is lower friction than another.



Doug McGuff has said, "Just Lift Weights".... which to me indicates, he has come to similar conclusions.... while he hasn't added it, I'm sure he would agree, if I added, "Just lift weights.... safely"....

In any case, if you made it this far, thanks for reading.

Recommendation: check out these links:

http://www.ren-ex.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/The-Assumed-vs.-The-Real-Objective-of-Exercise1.pdf

http://www.ren-ex.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Exercise-vs-Recreation.pdf

Jul 1, 2017

True, False or Incomplete Part 3

GOOD FOR YOU VS BAD FOR YOU and
TRUE OR FALSE VS CONCLUSION OR OBSERVATION


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Part 1

Part 2

Undoubtedly anecdotal or empirical evidence is fraught with potential for inaccuracies and without actual scientific basis must always be viewed skeptically.

Some may have heard the story about great grandma's amazing ham recipe that illustrates this.

Part of her written instructions included cutting a few inches off from each end of the ham before cooking it.

This recipe was passed down two generations and often resulted in requests for the recipe. When people noted the instructions to trim the ends, puzzled questions resulted as to why. The answer basically came down to, "that's how my mother did it." When mother was asked about it, she replied similarly that her mother had always done it that way as well. When grandma was finally asked, she laughed and said, when your grandfather and I were young, we couldn't afford much and the only cookware we had wasn't big enough so I would cut it to make it fit into the pot!

Similarly, many "old wives' tales" or in sports circles, "old coaches' tales", get passed down and the only rationale seems to be something to the effect of "that's the way the old timers did it" or "if it's not broken..."

Still before throwing out the baby with the bath water, I have to note that there are cases where science catches up with the anecdotal evidence. In fact, much research starts out with the goal of testing a hypothesis that has come from anecdotal evidence.

One example that comes to mind is the recommendation to have a nice bowl of chicken soup when not feeling well. While undoubtedly being ridiculed as an "old wives' tale", there is apparently now a lot of evidence that bone broth which gives us access to collagen and many other nutrients not available when only consuming muscle meat, is in fact highly desirable from a health standpoint.

Another thing I find somewhat humorous is the expression, "snake oil salesman".
This has become synonymous with charlatanism. However, we now know that having the wrong balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats is detrimental and this is why the advice to eat more fish or even take that cod liver oil your mother used to force on you. I've read that the original claims made for snake oil were based on sea snakes (eels?) which were likely great sources of omega 3.

As demand grew so did profit potential so either ignorance or lack of scruples led to the sale of snake oil that was not rich in Omega 3. No doubt, hucksters also vastly exaggerated benefits but that is not to say there were not any benefits if from the right source and taken by someone whose omega's were out of balance.

Fasting in various forms has long been practiced for religious or health reasons but only recently has research shown tangible significant benefits. Up until recently, advocates were of course written off as quacks. More on this later. "Detoxing" has been ridiculed as one of the supposed benefits of fasting, but I suspect that what may have been wrongly described as "detoxing" may actually be "autophagy" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autophagy

As previously, I discussed the limitations of the scientific method, which I described as the gold standard, the limitations of anecdotal evidence are potentially far greater.

As per some of my examples above failure to even consider variables much less make attempts to replicate them will inevitably lead to many generalizations that will not be universally applicable and may not apply more often than they do.

While maintaining a healthy skepticism for above reasons, I think it's a mistake to equate "lack of scientific basis" or "not backed up by research" with "false".

When I see something traditional that has stood the test of time over decades, centuries or more, rather than ridicule what I don't understand, I'm more prone to wonder in what context this may have been applicable and see whether there might be an opportunity to learn something useful.

Of course, on either side there is also massive potential for misrepresentation either motivated by wanting to exploit and done purposefully, or with good intention in honest error but especially due to the error of premature extrapolation of information to apply in cases where it is not applicable.

Then there is the media (advertising and news) and second handedness.

Most of us get our health information on a food label, a commercial or a news bit reporting a new study reporting an "indication" of a "possible link" that "could be linked".... but extremely few ever peruse actual studies or research how traditional practices started or what their basis is.

However many and probably most of us make and or believe blanket statements about something being true or false because it is presumably

"Scientifically proven"
"Everyone knows it's true"
"An old wives' tale"
"Heard it on the news"
"Read it in a fitness publication"
Etc etc

By the way, one of my distinctions has been to replace "I believe this is true (or false)" with "this is what seems to make the most sense to me at this time based on the available information that I'm aware of."

Please note, I'm not equating this with, "who am I to know?" as I believe in thinking for myself, and so this is the exact opposite of this, but it is merely acknowledging that many issues are extremely complex and much more research is needed before drawing any final conclusions.

So what prompted this particular blog post?



So here are a list of "outside the nine dots" thoughts that I have. Several may fall under "seem to make sense but can't prove."

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Hormesis and therapeutic window:

A definition I found through Google by
Merriam-Webster:

Medical Definition of hormesis:
"a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something (as a heavy metal or ionizing radiation) that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses"

The above definition refers to heavy metal and ionizing radiation but it seems logical to me that it would also apply to things that are considered good for you such as exercise or sleep as well as things that are bad for you such as smoking or alcohol.

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Being too sedentary or too active takes you out of therapeutic window.

In fitness circles, a ubiquitous error has been to assume more is better. This error is often reinforced by the training regimens of elite athletes who are by definition extreme outliers. Drugs are often a factor as well.

Even in their case, their success may be caused despite their overtraining and not because of it. (note that skill training does require countless hours of practice while actual conditioning may require adequate recovery, and balancing both becomes a challenge, part of the reason, in my opinion why the highest levels of success are the domain of extreme outliers, who can withstand and recover from hours of skill practice and still maintain conditioning. Unfortunately, the distinction between skill practice and conditioning is often missed, and hours are spent on both.)

Also, I understand there is good evidence that superior performance and health track together fairly well to a point however to be competitive at a world class level, athletes may go well beyond that point and pay a heavy price for the tiny extra that can take them from the middle of the pack to the podium (perhaps far before that point, just to be in contention to make the Olympic team).

We know that being bed ridden due to illness has an extreme deconditioning effect, but too much activity can be toxic as well.

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Could moderate smoking make you more resistant to other air pollutants? In this example would the risk of finding the proper therapeutic window outweigh the potential benefits? I personally doubt it, which is why the idea of hormesis may help to explain the benefits of existing activities or substances such as exercise and certain vitamins, I don't believe it follows, that we should necessarily seek out potentially toxic factors because of their potential benefit. Note that there is a growing body of research that shows benefit from exposing one to relatively extreme cold (cold showers to ice baths) or relatively extreme heat (saunas)

Ayn Rand has been quoted as saying something to the effect that in a compromise between poison and non poison, poison will always prevail. While I take the point to heart, the analogy fails to consider that toxicity is not a matter of substance but rather of concentration.

Perhaps exposure to potentially toxic ideas can help us to develop philosophical defenses against bad ideas in general?

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Low carb, fasting, potato hacks all seem to be contradictory approaches to claimed health benefits? Could they all be different routes to the same goal, i.e. helping your digestive system and metabolism to an optimal state by temporarily inducing fat burning and autophagy?

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The whole anti-vax controversy. All I will say here, and I paraphrase Dr. Doug McGuff in that, if a drug or treatment of any type has a therapeutic effect, then by definition it will also have a side effect. This will be true of vaccination as well. Dr. McGuff, who is an emergency room physician has shared with me that he has personally witnessed an extreme reaction in a child who was vaccinated that morning. While he doesn't claim proof that it was caused by this, when he reported it, it was ignored. That is the danger of ridiculing something, is that, as new evidence becomes known, it is ignored due to being immediately written off as quackery. Obviously, the case for the benefits of vaccination outweighing the harm is strong, especially in large populations, but does that mean it will always be the case for individuals, or that further research should be ignored. "Settled science" is an oxymoron. I will update this paragraph with a link, as soon as I can find a site that can tell you the probability of a drug helping vs harming.

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GMO's benefits outweigh the risks however both sides are overly polarized in my opinion, in that while I don't believe genetic modification is dangerous per se, I do believe caution should be taken before assuming complete safety. Margarine is a modified food and trans fats have now been shown to be very unhealthy. (Is there a therapeutic window for trans fats?)

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It would appear that one of the, if not the only consistent lifestyle links to longevity is caloric deprivation. Various experiments with animals have shown as much as a 20% increase in longevity when exposing them to lifelong slight caloric deficit. While, this might require feeling some hunger throughout life, there is promising research that suggests that much of the same results can be achieved through intermittent fasting. There is another school of thought that suggests that lowering our heart rate can improve longevity...(and other research that seems to show the opposite), but one thing my fitbit has shown me pretty consistently is that when I am strict with my dieting and or do intermittent fasting, my resting heart rate goes down, and at times like the holidays when my discipline wanes, my resting heart rate goes up.

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In 1968, Kenneth Cooper wrote the book Aerobics, at which time, this term was first coined in relationship to exercise. His findings were largely based on anecdotal, or empirical evidence. For example, he pointed out that bus drivers (who sat most of the day) in Britain, had much more obesity and heart disease than the individuals who stood all day to collect the fares. From this, he extrapolated that being sedentary was bad, and being active was good. The conclusion was the more active you were the better, and he developed a point system, and encouraged people to achieve a given number of points per day or per week, with the strong implication that more was better. With this, came the running craze, and he was hailed and the "man who would save America's hearts". A few decades letter, and with many orthopedic surgeons getting quite wealthy fixing knees, hips and low backs, some suggested, he might turn out to be remembered as the "man who ruined America's knees". He conceded later that more was not better, and even suggested that too much activity might even make one more prone to cancer.

Strength training, as it is now more commonly known, but had long been called weight lifting or bodybuilding had been around forever, but it was considered that training muscles had more to do with vanity, and that actual health benefits had to focus on the heart and lungs. In fact, it was widely believed that large muscles could interfere with sports performance, and even put a strain on your heart. Over time, however, these myths went by the wayside, and strength training became more recognized, for both performance and overall health. Today, we see that muscles are very active metabolically, and that strength training stimulates the production of myokines which are apparently linked to a myriad of health benefits, and have even been compared to the closest thing to the fountain of youth yet.

So "aerobics" or "cardio" advocated low intensity, frequent, long duration exercise, while "strength training" generally advocated briefer, higher intensity, and less frequent exercise. Of course, many people tried to combine both, in order to get all benefits simultaneously, however it was thought that doing so would make it difficult if not impossible to properly recover from that much exercise, not to mention that few people with family and career responsibilities could keep a long term commitment to that much exercise.

Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus machines, and later MedX, claimed, and the science now seems to confirm, that all benefits could be had from a properly designed strength training program, and further advocated that the intensity be very high, and thus the frequency and volume be kept very low in order to maximize recovery, in some cases, admonising people from any type of exertion between workouts, claiming that this would interfere with recovery and limit results or even bring them to a halt. Pendulums tend to swing far as we know. Today, where I've landed with all this, is that proper strength training should be the cornerstone of an exercise regimens, and while I agree with Jones that so called "cardio" is unnecessary, there is another aspect which is now coming to light; going back to our sedentary bus driver from Ken Cooper's book, it would seem that the actual sitting or not moving around much all day, is, in itself hazardous to your health. So, the ticket collector wasn't jogging or running marathons, but he was up and about regularly. Cooper, assumed more was better, and Jones assumed less (or none) was better. My recommendation (what makes the most sense to me right now: do proper strength training for conditioning, and just make sure you regularly move around, each hour for example, and for recreation if desired, engage in whatever sport or activity enhances your life (mental/spiritual) accordingly. (more on safety later)

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Obesity has long been associated as a health risk for multiple ailments. I have pondered, that obsesity per se, may only be a part of the issue. I suspect strongly, that what we do to become obese, (overeating, and being in a constanntly overfed state, (see caloric deprivation above) making poor food choices and being extremely sedentary (see above as well)) puts a lot of negative stress on the body distinct from the actual added fat that it makes us carry. Carrying fat, historically, has helped us to survive famines, and the ability to store and retain fat has been very desirable from an evolutionary standpoint. I do concede that being fat, in and of itself, does create issues such as strain on knees, lower backs etc, which will almost surely compromise our functional ability as we age, and that will at the very least reduce quality of life, and most likely longevity. Being fat also wreaks havoc with hormones, and there is evidence that being fat, leads us to overeating and being sedentary, as much as the vice versa. My point here is that the health hazards are not just about being fat, but the stress we put on our bodies in the process of getting fat.

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In exercise, and other activities, it is obvious that safety is paramount, both from the point of view of avoiding acute injuries or long term debilities from overuse. Much has been written and discussed about high impact, low impact, proper posture, lifting technique (both in sport and every day activities). With the forementioned aerobics craze and the accompanying injuries, we have seen an entire industry created to provide products either designed to prevent or treat fitness related injuries such as properly cushioned shoes and a new branch of medicine referred to as "sports medicine". (Arthur Jones stated that if the number of emergency room visits called by so called fitness activities were due to some new disease, a national outcry of a crisis would be heard and there would be much research and or fund raising done to stem this terrible threat.)

We've also seen "low impact" and, in strength training, as a result of research done by Nautilus on how to safely train elderly people suffering from osteoporosis (who could benefit greatly from strength training, but whose fragility made that very challenging), the advent of "Superslow" strength training, which advocates moving extremely slowly in order to minimize force on joints, tendons and ligaments. There is much evidence that this method of training also more effectively loads the targeted musculature and produces better results for the general population in a safer manner. High intensity is still a major component of Superslow (which has gone through different monikers over time) as participants are instructed to continue an exercise until "momentary muscular failure, or fatigue".

Conversely, a current very popular fitness trend is crossfit, which definitely embraces high intensity, but seems to have little or no regard for "low impact" or "minimizing force" as it involves rapid movements as well as plyometric (jumping) activities. Superslow proponents consider this insanity and a recipe for disaster, whereas many crossfit enthusiasts (assuming they've even heard of Superslow) would argue that slow movements are inadequate to build speed and so called explosive strength. I have strong opinions (convictions?) on much of this....

(to be continued in Part 4)









May 12, 2017

Fad diets okay?

Why many fad diets may not be that bad?

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You've heard about

-Grapefruit diets
-Cabbage soup diets
-Fasting
-Very low calorie "medically" supervised" diets
-Various meal replacement shakes based diets
-Potato hacks *
-etc, etc

They are typically ridiculed and or warned to be ineffective or outright dangerous.

Admittedly, this is not meant to be a blanket endorsement of all as some may well be dangerous especially if used as an exclusive and long term strategy.

I personally have been very critical of these in the past but find myself now taking another look.

Hopefully not oversimplifying too much but two main criticisms are

1. Lack of variety or calories too low will lead to nutritional deficiencies and health issues.
2. Any temporary successes will be more than offset once the individual goes back to regular over eating of sub optimal diet and gains all fat back and then some.

To the first point, I would counter that our bodies are very adaptable and proper nutrition may not necessitate having all needed nutrients at every meal, every day or even every week. To this, I would refer to evidence showing people fasting intermittently or for extended periods who have been shown to derive many health benefits and higher energy as a result. (Google autophagy as just one example)

If eating nothing for several days doesn't cause instant malnutrition than I highly doubt eating nothing but cabbage soup or potatoes or seriously cutting calories, would either.

To the second point, about gaining it all back when you go back to bad habits, part of my answer is "Duh!"

Kidding aside, I now think I was missing the obvious which is that the problem is not the so called "fad" but the terrible habits before and after the fad.

If you spend all your time driving over nails and then repair flat tires only to go back to nail ridden road...

... of course if you spend all your time repairing, you won't ever get anywhere either.

In other words, I now give consideration to the idea of many of these as "hacks" or "resets" that can obviously not work unless they are part of a holistic overall strategy that includes proper choices in exercise (strength training) and nutrition.

Now, one could argue and I would concede, that if you're already making those good choices, why would you need a reset?

Well, other than the mounting evidence of the benefits of fasting (which I think many of these mimic), even health conscious individuals may find it difficult to make good choices more than 70-80% of the time. (If you get to 70-80% adherence, you will be way ahead of majority of folks). And, quality of life considerations may make life boring to go beyond that which is why, in my opinion, long term adherence is extremely rare. Moderation in all things, even moderation itself.

So consider:

-the holidays
-special family events such as weddings
-cruises (personal weak area)
-indulging in certain guilty pleasures
-etc

The "hacks" and the "resets" can help with a kickstart and motivation, in my opinion and are not THE solution but I believe can be part of the toolbox that encompasses an overall healthy lifestyle.

Thanks for reading.

*recommend book "Potato Hack".

May 10, 2017

Part 2 Series: True, False or Incomplete?

GOOD FOR YOU VS BAD FOR YOU and
TRUE OR FALSE VS CONCLUSION OR OBSERVATION


***********
Part 1


Example: a certain vitamin is said to be "good for you". This "conclusion" is based on evidence that a deficiency results in a disease state.

New research however shows that said vitamin does "its good" because our immune system perceives it as a threat and it is the immune system's adaptation that protects us from disease agents and not the vitamin itself. Taking a "poison" may kill us but taking a tiny bit of that poison can help us create antibodies that protect us not only from that poison but potentially other threats as well.

I used the vitamin example, because I believe the point I'm trying to make is especially relevant in highly complex instances where there are many variables, which, of course, is the case with the human body. (and reality in general)

Also, I would like to speak about "scientific evidence", "scientific proof", "anecdotal evidence" and "alternative medicine".

First off, let me acknowledge that proper studies using control groups in a double-blind fashion, with sufficient sample size is the gold standard for attempting to discern facts from speculation.

And of course that entails duplicating these studies in order to replicate original outcomes (or not).

I also wish to acknowledge that in the absence of such standards, the potential for abuse by unscrupulous individuals is enormous, and instances of this abound, however, I'm not prepared to concede that the scientific method is the only possible way for human beings to learn and to make distinctions. While the scientific method represents a quantum leap in the ability to make reliable distinctions in a fraction of the time, humans were able to make distinctions before the scientific method was even devised, albeit much more slowly.

Where I think we've gone wrong is to simply dismiss things altogether because they have not been held up to the scrutiny of the scientific method, rather than try to see whether there may be some basis to what may initially seem to be without foundation.

One of several challenges in utilizing the scientific method is ensuring that potential variables (which may be almost countless) remain consistent and are accounted for.

This can prove to be difficult and in some cases impossible.

For example, as pointed out in the book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" in discussing the relative merits of various macronutrient ratios to human health, the author correctly points out that you can only decrease one macronutrient in a diet by simultaneously either increasing another macronutrient or reducing overall calories. That will leave you with no conclusion as to whether whatever result is produced was caused by the decrease of one macronutrient, the increase of another or the overall decrease in calories.

This doesn't even take into account that the underlying premise of categorizing all food into three groups is likely in my opinion to be a major oversimplification. There are many ways to subdivide these and depending on what was used to represent a macronutrient category (vegetable oil vs lard or soy protein vs grass fed beef etc) may yield very different outcomes.

I could go on and on:
-animal vs human studies
-difficulty of getting humans to comply strictly over sufficient time period
-maintaining double blind criteria
-selection bias (studies on exercise benefits almost always involve lifelong exercisers as it is very difficult to get them to stop in order to be part of control group or to get couch potatoes to exercise regularly over time, which than begs the question: does exercise make you fit or healthy or are fit and healthy people more likely to be active?)
-etc etc

So even the gold standard clearly has limitations in its applicability.

Most of our population is actually over fed and sleep deprived (misaligned with circadian rhythm), not to mention sedentary, spending hours of the day seated and also not getting much sunshine and fresh air.

In that population, macro nutrient ratios may have significance, but, in my opinion (okay, speculation) be far less relevant with above noted variables being more optimal.

I've sometimes speculated for example that a lot of research with sleep deprived subjects might well be invalidated if people just got enough sleep, sunshine and fresh air.

End of digression.

But adding to the turmoil is the fact that much of what passes for "science" is not actually based on above high standard scientific method.

Epidemiological studies look at patterns within large populations and identify relationships but do not establish whether those relationships are causal, however that fact is often not clearly stated.

Meta analysis looks at groups of studies, presumably to see if there is wide agreement, but the standards between studies, vary greatly.

For example many studies are conducted by university students rather than tenured scientists, and I'm told these are often very poorly designed however they are still often published and then repeated by mainstream media without any disclaimers.

I also am concerned by what I will call funding bias. While some will suggest that certain outcomes are more desirable if a researcher doesn't want to see funding dry up, I will stop short of implying that actual tampering or falsifying of results commonly takes place as I have no direct evidence of such. However my concern is that there will inevitably be more funding available to do certain types of research than others so some theories never actually get truly studied. Those theories are then left with largely only anecdotal evidence which of course isn't proof of anything and so that evidence is discarded due to "not having any scientific basis".

Good luck getting funding to research whether global warming is either not existent, not caused by humans or not detrimental if it does exist. Or to show that cholesterol lowering drugs may not be the best approach to fighting heart disease. (Or more specifically to test those theories, with no bias for either outcome).

(to be continued in part 3)


****************************************************

Purpose of this series:

It is my perception, that many people, including myself as well as many people whose reasoning minds I greatly respect , tend to make assumptions, sweeping generalizations and absolute statements in instances where I feel they are doing so prematurely. This blog entry post has two purposes:

-to challenge their thinking.
-to gather feedback as to errors of reasoning I may be making in this series of entries.

May 5, 2017

Part 1 series: True, False or Incomplete?

GOOD FOR YOU VS BAD FOR YOU and
TRUE OR FALSE VS CONCLUSION OR OBSERVATION

As I've gotten older and presumably wiser, (58 at time of this writing), there have been various times when I've felt pretty confident, perhaps even arrogant at times about what I thought I knew "for sure".

However, with the passing of a few years, I've sometimes felt embarrassed to realize I once believed something to be true and even more so, that I held that view so strongly.

A recent distinction that I've made however, is that, although, I know that A is A, in that a fact is true or not, limited information or faulty premises often lead us to draw conclusions or generalizations too quickly.

Put another way, referencing the scientific method, we may be getting to "Conclusion" too soon when we should spend more time at "Observation" stage.

An assertion may make sense and be properly derived by reason based on available information, but as additional information is found or additional distinctions are made, we find that assertion to be false, or more likely incomplete, out of context or only applicable in certain cases but not others.

Kind of like the group of blind guys who all have one hand on an elephant and are all describing different things based on their limited perception.

This is part 1 of what I've been writing and thinking of for a while and originally was going to make into one long blog, but as it kept getting longer and longer I've decided to break into parts.

************

Purpose of this series:

It is my perception, that many people, including myself as well as many people whose reasoning minds I greatly respect , tend to make assumptions, generalizations and absolute statements in instances where I feel they are doing so prematurely. This blog post has two purposes:

-to challenge their thinking.
-to gather feedback as to errors of reasoning I may be making in this series of entries.

Apr 4, 2017

IMAGINATION

IMAGINATION

In Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #1 is "Be Proactive."

He defines one of the aspects that differ humans from animals is the ability to choose to proact rather than react.

He points out that in a reactive model, there is virtually no gap between stimulus and response.

Whereas in a proactive model there is a space that contains humans' "ability to choose". The traits, unique to humans that allow this, are

1. Self awareness
2. Conscience
3. IMAGINATION
4. Independence

Humans can be aware of their own feelings and mental state and compensate for them.

Humans have a sense of morality. (See previous post on Conscience)

Humans can IMAGINE multiple possible outcomes in advance as they assess appropriate actions to take.

Humans can think and choose independently.

I love how Covey addresses the controversy between whether we are more influenced by nature or nurture (genetics or conditioning).

"Is it nature or nurture?" "It's your choice."

Einstein said that imagination was more powerful than knowledge.

Ayn Rand "Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won."

One could replace the above "vision" with "imagination"

Feedback always welcome.

Apr 1, 2017

CONSCIENCE

CONSCIENCE

Are we born with an inherent sense of right and wrong?

Or is it conditioning?

A google search produced the following:

"The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action: to follow the dictates of conscience. The complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual."

"Inner sense" and "right or wrong" are very broad topics for a blog post, but I will attempt to summarize.

I don't believe right or wrong is a function of any divine revelation but rather a logical determination whereas life is the standard of value. Anything that enhances your life without harming someone else's life except in self defense is the good. Anything that harms your life is the wrong and that would include harming others unless in self defence, because there is no conflict between rational people. Exploiting others in any way will always be detrimental to yourself, in the long term.

An "inner sense" of the above must first come from a consistent view of ethics as described in previous paragraph. Otherwise, your "conscience" will leave you always in doubt from what you think will be ethical dilemmas. These will actually be the result of holding conflicting and or ill defined beliefs leaving you in a perpetual state of "self doubt, like a ball and chain, where your mind's wings should have grown." (Quote: Ayn Rand)

So CONSCIENCE can and should be "impelling toward right actions" like a moral compass but this can't work unless true north is objective.

As infants, we may have a sense of fear of perceived danger or attraction to perceived nourishment or pleasure but these are generally distorted by short vs long term as well as genetically inherited traits that cause us for example to recoil from a harmless garter snake and be indifferent to malevolent ideas. In other words, CONSCIENCE must be developed and it must be developed properly.

Feedback on what I've missed always welcome.