Thursday, December 30, 2010

why should you stay in shape?

we all know why you should get in shape, why you should be healthy, fit, etc. we all make our best efforts to do so with the least amount of negative impact on our lives. that is, take the least amount of time away from the other things in our lives - work, play, family, friends, etc - and the least amount of financial and to some extent bodily impact. for many, we even do our investing in fitness at one phase of life- youth, middle age, whatever - and hope it pays dividends later in now. in other words, we often refer to what we used to/could have done and pretend to live off those glory years - or months, in some cases - as if somehow those hard-earned capabilities would persist beyond that phase of training.


the truth is, we de-condition much faster than we get in condition, and while we often retain some extended benefits from a training period - for ex, strength declines slowly largely because the nervous system, which is the first and most persistent adapter to a strength training routine, has "memory" (some would say, muscle memory) that enables muscle recruitment even when hypertrophy withers.

other benefits, such as aerobic or anaerobic capacity, fade, too. since the complex biochemical changes, not just the gross anatomical ones (like heart ventricle size), reverse engines to their previous state of dormancy or half-use, our capacity to perform for long periods of time (aerobic) or in short bursts of higher intensity (anaerobic) diminish, too.

the magic question for years has been, how little do i need to get in shape? and how little do i need to do to stay there? and while there is no precise answer to those questions, there is at least one caveat that persists beyond all the research studies: if you don't use it, you lose it. furthermore, if you do use it, and stop using it, it won't be there when you want it again. and this article discusses this issue a bit deeper:

so, whatcha waitin' on; get up and start exercising...again.

oh, and happy new year, too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

workouts that work

it's christmas morning and all through my house, not a creature was stirring, except me. hopefully the mouse that's been meandering on the counter near my home-made bread - he/she never did get any but keeps leaving droppings as proof of intent - has died from the poison i planted there for him. but my kids - 16.5 and near-18 - are with their mom's family; my girlfriend is with her kids and family in memphis; and needless to say the gym is quiet today - so i'm solo. not an issue for a non-practicing jew but it does afford me the opportunity to write this blog.

the title - workouts that work - is not new nor is it intended to be profoundly enlightening, so if you're seeking the ultimate in workout tips, look elsewhere. rather, as i oft do on this blog, i'm bringing to light the 'research' that's been reported in the ny times on fitness; in this case, on the afterglow of an exercise session. what is it? why do people feel - no, not good - that's endorphins or some such sense of accomplishment - HOT for extended periods of time after a good hard workout.

now, i've never studied this phenomenon and i'll take the word of the contributors to the article that no one really knows why, but i do know the feeling. in fact, against almost all advice, i am a late night worker-outer; that is, i usually do my cardio (stationary bikes, now that running or even ellipticals hurts my knee) after 930, 10 P.M. that's right, i come home, eat, read, lolligag, then decide, on the spur of the moment, if i have enough energy to get on the bike for 20-30 minutes. if i do - one could say i'm lucky bc i'm lean, fit looking, and after 40+ yrs of being a fitness aficionado, i don't need to do cardio as intently as competitors or out of shape folks- i will do some low intensity with reading or some version of intervals (with reading only during the warm up). then i shower and hit the rack with a book or journal...but only for a short while since sleep usually overcomes me quite quickly at that point. no, i do not get invigorated enough to stay awake, so don't ask. but then again, this is a 40 yr old habit of sorts - i used to do my tae kwon do exercises and calisthenics late at nite when i was a competitor - and it's never kept me awake. and yes, some people do get invigorated but i suspect it's a smaller number than the advisers might suggest when they warn against late-night exercise. (here's where i go personal: how many of you engage in sexual behavior before bedtime and get so invigorated you can't fall asleep afterward? unless the sex act goes unrequited in some form or another, most folks are usually calmed if not soon then immediately afterward, and sleep often intervenes before the parties separate. exercise is exercise regardless of the format, and good exercise is akin to good, even bad, sex in that one is often spent afterward. a hot shower is all that's needed to cap off the evening.)

having diverged, let me return to the point. here's the article:

now, in winter, when i keep the house around 66-67 degrees, it's cool enough that i need a light jacket to sit around, esp downstairs, where the kitchen and the tv room/bike rooms are. but after my ride, i'm warm if not sweaty. i can move around without a shirt for a while before the chill hits but am usually on my way back upstairs to shower. i am comfortable as i hit the bed but enjoy getting under the blankets after a few more minutes of cooling down, and sleep befalls me. and tho i am not sweating or steaming as you might suspect based on my thermostatic environment, my internal thermostat does run warm. and to the point of the article - i don't care why. it's nice to know, and some grad students need to study it, but the warmth i feel after a workout is my body's attempt to reset its internal thermostat from hi to lower, to re-align blood flow from the legs and skin to the gut from whence it was shunted, and to initiate the adaptations that will enable the workout to yield health and physique results. one can get overwhelmed by articles such as this and if you're in the exercise sciences, maybe even get inspired to read on. but if you're simply trying to find a way or reason to exercise, esp in the winter months, there's nothing bad one can say about exercise but there is one more good reason to consider it: it warms the cockles of your heart and body.

and on this white, wintry, snowy christmas morning, alone in my den looking out at the dusted trees and bushes, all i can say is i'm warm. and i hope you are too. merry christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

on vitamin D: changing standards?

the other day, i got my tufts nutrition newsletter. there was a small piece in there about the need to take more vitamin d and how many are getting this message. the same day, the ny times and wall street journal reported on an institute of medicine committee that reviewed hundreds of articles and came up with some revisions to the D controversy. interestingly, each paper had a different spin despite covering the same exact literature. (liberal vs conservative? not in this situation....)

the times emphasized the lowered standard for prescribing supplementation from 30 ng/ml to 20 ng/ml of blood as there is no consensus on what the lowest level is to prevent any number of diseases associated with D deficiency: bones, cardiovascular, cancer, etc. but the journal emphasized the tripling of the baseline daily needs from 200 IU to 600 IU, with the appropriate aging considerations. it also highlighted how older men don't need 1200 units of calcium and can get by on 1000. in other words, the report is shaking up the medical world.

several docs opposed the lowered blood level marker as studies and experience have shown that higher blood levels tend to support safer bones. some docs even suggest that D supplementation up to 2000 units is safe and more effective than traditional levels of supplementation. both papers did address the economics of D supplements as there are many manufacturers and vendors who will be hurt if docs stop pushing D hard.

all this is to say that medicine is fluid. one problem with evidence based medicine is that the evidence is often not good enough to make firm standards on most everything there is to test or treat. as such, as we attempt to drive our medico-economics on a national scale with such evidence based medicine, some folks will get short-shrifted as cost becomes the measure of application. i don't have the answer and neither private nor public insurers have the means to provide all any one person needs, but i do know it is not a pretty picture. what i can offer, however, is my humblest opinion based on the literature i read and the material tossed out for public consumption. and to offer you the option of at least making informed decisions.

read on: