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Archive for May, 2009

The heart recovers after a marathon

May 29th, 2009

The question of whether extreme bouts of exercise like marathons do more damage than good to the heart always sparks discussion, thanks to occasional sudden deaths at sporting events (see this Jockology column for a discussion of the issue). Over the past few years, several research papers have found evidence that the heart does sustain damage during prolonged hard exercise — but these indicators are very hard to interpret.

A new study from researchers at the University of Manitoba looked at this question more closely, by using MRI imaging of the hearts of 14 non-elite runners both before and after the 2008 Manitoba Marathon in Winnipeg. Previous studies have used less direct methods to figure out whether the heart was damaged or not. The results provided good news for marathoners:

“By using (MRI), we were able to definitively show that these fluctuations do not result in any true damage of the heart, and the right ventricular dysfunction is transient, recovering one week following the race,” (lead investigator Davinder S. Jassal said).

In other words, just like the rest of your body, the heart takes a pounding during a marathon, but appears to recover soon afterwards. The next step for the researchers is to repeat the study to determine whether running more than one marathon in a given year produces permanent damage.

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More on the Queen’s massage study

May 23rd, 2009

I posted last week about an interesting study on how massage works (or doesn’t). Michael Tschakovsky and his colleagues at Queen’s University concluded that, contrary to popular belief, deep-tissue massage doesn’t “flush out lactic acid” from tired muscles by enhancing circulation. In fact, they observed the opposite effect: massage actually appears to inhibit circulation.

But that doesn’t mean massage doesn’t work at all. Paul Taylor has a nice piece on this study in the Globe and Mail that contains a few new nuggets — in particular, some thoughts about how massage might actually work:

Why then does a massage feel so good? Dr. Tschakovsky can’t yet say for sure, but he suspects that it helps stops muscle spasms. “The pressure applied to the muscle … breaks the cycle of the nerve that is causing the muscle to contract so your muscle will relax,” he speculated.

Jockology: exercises for strong bones

May 22nd, 2009

This week’s Jockology column (just posted) takes on a frequently asked question: What type of exercise is best for maintaining strong bones?

Once you reach adulthood, it’s basically one long fight against the slow but inexorable loss of bone strength – and the key to that fight, many of us assume, is weight-bearing activities.

But the latest research shows that resistance-training exercises like lifting weights can also play a crucial role in bone health – and in some cases are even more effective than weight-bearing activities such as elliptical training. [read the rest of the column...]

When my dad read the column this morning, he asked me if that meant that all the biking he does is no good for maintaining his bone strength. He’s correct that the research I presented suggests that biking isn’t as good as running (with its jarring impacts) or weight training (with its targeted strengthening of muscles) for bone health. But that doesn’t mean that biking, along with just about any form of exercise, can’t play a role in maintaining bone strength. I’d certainly rather that he spend an hour a day biking (which he enjoys) than grudgingly shift to doing leg weights (which he doesn’t enjoy) a few times a week.

For most people, bone strength is just one of the factors to be considered in designing an exercise program. Unless you’re at a high risk of osteopenia, I’m hoping the information in this column will help you make subtle tweaks in your exercise program, rather than a radical overhaul.

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Vitamins and exercise don’t mix? (and rehabilitating free radicals)

May 14th, 2009

A new report in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has caused a stir. As Scientific American puts it,

Exercise is good for you. Antioxidants are good for you. But put them together and it’s not as good as you’d think. Because a recent study shows that some vitamins block the beneficial effects of exercise.

Read more…

The “myth” of massage

May 10th, 2009

[UPDATE: Check out the comments section for more info from Dr. Michael Tschakovsky,  the Queen's researcher behind the study.]

A press release about a new Queen’s University study on massage doesn’t mince any words:

A Queen’s University research team has blown open the myth that massage after exercise improves circulation to the muscle and assists in the removal of lactic acid and other waste products.

Thank goodness we’ve finally solved that mystery… right? Well, maybe not. Read more…

Debate! Response to balance training article…

May 10th, 2009

The Jockology column from a couple of weeks ago discussed the pros and cons of balance training. A Toronto strength coach named Tim Enfield left a comment on the blog yesterday offering a different perspective. Here’s what he wrote:

I noticed that you have an article on unstable training related to athletic performance. I wanted to bring to your attention research on that topic posted on PUBMed, located at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez. I believe this study stands in direct contradiction to what you wrote in your blog, and perhaps the writing was misleading to the average gym goer. Read more…

Pounding protein to pack on muscle: myth?

May 8th, 2009

The latest Jockology column is now available — it takes on the myth that you need to pound huge protein shakes after your workouts if you want to pack on muscle. This is a classic case of researchers saying one thing, while top athletes tend to do something completely different. Are the athletes just stuck with outdated traditions, or are the researchers failing to operate in the “real world?”

It’s a pretty safe bet that the guy at the gym who is built like a tree trunk and bench-presses the entire rack also has an enormous barrel of protein powder tucked into his gym bag. This, you might think, is a pretty good endorsement of the “you’ve got to eat muscle to build muscle” school of thought.

But correlation is not the same as causation.

Read the rest of the column — and then feel free to tell me I’m an idiot. After all, I’m not the most muscular guy the world…

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Sports injury alert: sneezing

May 6th, 2009

Spring is here, and with it comes allergy season — and, apparently, a little-known rise in the risk of athletic injuries. The Canadian Press has a hilarious article [07/2010: LINK DEAD] on sneezing injuries, following Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero’s recent sternutatory abdominal strain. This is serious stuff (or, as the writer inevitably put it, “nothing to sneeze at”):

“When you sneeze, it’s that thrust of a movement that can throw a rib off and you usually feel it in your back as opposed to your abdomen,” says Cindy Hughes, a certified athletic therapist and manager of the Sport Injury Clinic at York University in Toronto…

“You just have that explosive movement and all of a sudden: bam, it’s going to hit you.”

The take-home message, from University of Toronto sports medicine doctor Doug Richards: learn to ward off sneezes by pressing your finger against your upper lip. But don’t stifle the sneeze once it begins, since that causes even higher pressure.

So… has anyone out there experienced this? [cue sound of crickets chirping]

Vitamin D and sports: overhyping a strong case

May 4th, 2009

The current issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has an article called “Athletic Performance and Vitamin D,” a topic that ignited some mild controversy when I dealt with it in a Jockology column back in March. The authors review five lines of evidence in support of their hypothesis that vitamin D helps athletic performance. In particular, they focus on a series of German studies from the 1940s and 50s showing that ultraviolet irradiation improved athletic performance, and on the spectacularly unsurprising result that athletes seem to be fitter in the summer (when vitamin can be produced from sunshine) than in the winter. Tellingly, they include this caveat about studies of vitamin D deficiency:

No attempt was made to associate athletic performance with 25(OH)D levels (a measure of vitamin D levels) in these four studies—or any study that we could locate.

Read more…

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Caffeine: is it all in your head after all?

May 3rd, 2009

Caffeine, as we’ve noted before, is probably the most versatile and powerful legal performance enhancer out there. Researchers can’t seem to find enough good things to say about it. And one of its most head-scratching properties is that it appears to give as much of a boost to habitual users as it does to caffeine virgins. But a new study in the journal Psychopharmacology offers a rare discordant voice. Read more…

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