Jockology: get fat, live longer?

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As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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A couple of weeks ago, the Globe’s Margaret Wente published an article called “Get fat, live longer,” spurred by a recent Statscan study suggesting that overweight people live longer than normal-weight people. It launched a bit of an Internet firestorm as people forwarded the article around with glee. The article itself was reasonably good, with the exception of one major clunker: she said that “obese” people (BMI 30-35) lived longer, whereas in fact it was just “overweight” people (BMI 25-30) who demonstrated the effect. Still, the message many people took from the article — “get fat, live longer,” — wasn’t quite what the research suggested. So I decided to address a couple of points in this week’s Jockology column:

The question

Statistics Canada says being overweight makes you live longer. Should I stop exercising?

The answer

Let’s start with the facts. In June, Statistics Canada researchers did indeed publish a study in the journal Obesity based on a 12-year analysis of 11,326 Canadian adults in the National Population Health Survey. They found that subjects who were overweight (body mass index of 25 to 30) were 17 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those of normal weight (BMI of 18.5 to 25).

Now on to the interpretation.

These results fit right in with a growing amount of evidence that body weight is not the absolute indicator of health we once thought.

But that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t important. In fact, it turns out that physical fitness is a far better barometer of your long-term health than weight is – and that holds true even for thin but inactive people who thought their fabulous metabolism meant they didn’t need to exercise at all. [read the rest of the column…]

For another very detailed take on this research, check out this post by obesity researcher Travis Saunders on the blog ObesityPanacea.

Watching TV makes you slack during your workout

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Good article in the Toronto Star by Paola Loriggio about the trend towards high-tech gyms. For example: the Gold’s Gym in London, Ont. that just opened one of the country’s first “cardio gyms,” where users can watch cinema-sized screens in a dark room while sweating on their cardio machines. She lists some pros and cons; most interesting to me is the following:

There’s a reason workouts seem easier when you’re watching TV – it’s because they are.

Researchers at Elon University in North Carolina studied the effects of various distractions on exercisers, and found those watching television didn’t work as hard as those listening to music, or toiling in silence.

“They were working at a very, very low intensity,” says Paul Miller, one of the researchers involved in the study, performed in 2005-2006 and slated for publication later this year.

“I think they got so engrossed, they didn’t pay attention to physical cues.”

Music, in contrast, apparently helps people push harder. I’ve often wondered about this. I suppose if you were running on a treadmill, and knew in advance what pace you wanted to run, you could just set the treadmill at that pace and it wouldn’t let you slack. Still, it’s food for thought.

Beet juice boosts endurance

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Today’s “exercise in a bottle” study: beet juice can help you exercise for up to 16 percent longer, according to researchers at the University of Exeter.

After drinking beetroot juice the group was able to cycle for an average of 11.25 minutes, which is 92 seconds longer than when they were given the placebo…

The researchers are not yet sure of the exact mechanism that causes the nitrate in the beetroot juice to boost stamina. However, they suspect it could be a result of the nitrate turning into nitric oxide in the body, reducing the oxygen cost of exercise.

For the record, the study consisted of eight men, who took 500 mL of beet juice for six straight days. The presence of nitrate isn’t something I’d ever heard of before, so maybe there’s some new science here. Certainly, the researchers seem to be pretty excited about it.

“We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training. I am sure professional and amateur athletes will be interested in the results of this research,” [said Professor Andy Jones].

My personal prediction: don’t look for Tour de France riders or Olympic runners to be downing beet juice anytime soon. I’d stick with training.

CRMag: massage and lactic acid, Achilles debridement, reading on the treadmill and more

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

The September-October issue of Canadian Running magazine is back from the printers, and should be in the mail and on newsstands soon. As usual, lots of good stuff — a profile of Ray Zahab, a pilgrimage through the three big-city U.S. fall marathons, and a Q&A with the ever-entertaining Reid Coolsaet, who’s currently in Berlin to run the marathon at the World Championships. Also, our editorial director, Dave Chaundy-Smart, tried out the Internet coaching offered by legendary Olympic marathoner Jon Brown. And finally, my regular Science of Running column covers the relationship between vitamins and exercise, a new gadget for reading on a treadmill, a new approach to Achilles tendinitis, the physiology of massage, and good news about marathons and heart damage.

Barefoot running: theory versus practice

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

With the publication of Chris McDougall’s Born to Run this spring, there’s been a flurry of interest in barefoot running (or minimalist running, which involves donning ultralight shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers, whose function is to keep your soles clear of broken glass and doggie doo rather than support your ankles). I had an interesting chat with McDougall for an feature I wrote in the July-August issue of Canadian Running (an excerpt is available here, but the full article isn’t available online at this point). I mention this because a reader just forwarded me a good overview of the topic from Wired, which offers its usual research-backed take on the topic [thanks for the tip, Adam].

To me, the jury is still out on this one. I like the theory behind minimalist running, and am willing to believe that, for those who take the time to build up slowly and do it right, it may be a route to injury-free running. But in practice, I’m not convinced that it’s widely applicable in our concrete-covered world, especially for people who have grown up wearing shoes. The extreme patience and diligence needed for a successful transition to barefoot running are precisely the qualities that most of us fail to demonstrate when running in regular shoes — which is why we get injured in the first place. So I think minimalism will remain a minority option for a small group of very methodical people who have tried and failed to run injury-free in regular shoes, but are truly committed to finding a way to run.