CRM: Science of Running

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)

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Forgot to mention in my last post that the latest Science of Running column, from the November-December issue of Canadian Running, is also available online. Among the topics: an 894-kilometre science experiment, running for better vision, and swearing for better performance.

CRM: Ed Whitlock feature

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)

***

Anyone who follows masters running will have heard the name Ed Whitlock. He’s the man who ran a 2:54 marathon at age 73 back in 2004, the first septuagenarian sub-three. That famous marathon is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes the records he’s set at a ridiculous range of distances over many years, thanks to his famous training regimen of up to three hours of slow, steady running around a local cemetery every day. But all has been quiet on the Whitlock front for the past few years, thanks to knee problems.

That may be about to change, according to a fantastic in-depth feature about Whitlock in the upcoming issue of Canadian Running magazine, by Michal Kapral. Ed is on the comeback trail! Definitely worth a read… (Heck, it’s worth clicking on just to see the photo of Ed racing in 1952 at the Hyde Park Relays — an event I competed in nearly 50 years later!)

GPS and your brain

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)

***

This is a little off-topic for this blog, but I just wanted to mention a major feature I wrote that will appear in the November issue of The Walrus, and is now available online. It’s about how using GPS navigation systems can affect the structure of your brain. It was a really interesting piece to report — probably the most interesting thing I’ve done in a few years — so I wanted to share the results.

[UPDATE 10/19: The New York Times picked out this article as its “Idea of the Day” in their “Must Reads From the Week in Review Staff” section.]

Jockology: Triple bill on fitness in your 50s!

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 Globe is running a special section on fitness in your 50s, so there are three Jockology columns in today’s paper:

The question

How should I train in my 50s?

The answer

When Ed Whitlock became the first septuagenarian to run a marathon in under three hours in 2003, it was thanks to a simple but gruelling training plan: two- to three-hour runs around a local cemetery, nearly every day.

That regimen presented two key challenges that are familiar to any masters athlete: staying healthy and – just as important but less obvious – staying motivated. In fact, when asked why his race performances in his 50s were less impressive than in the years before and after, Mr. Whitlock points to his motivation…

and

The question

How much will I slow down in my 50s?

The answer

The physical attributes that determine athletic performance – maximal oxygen uptake, as well as muscular strength and power – typically start to decline slowly at about the age of 35, and much more rapidly at about 60…

and

The question

Now that I’m in my 50s, what’s the cumulative effect of all the exercise I’ve done?

The answer

Unless you’ve made a dramatic turnaround after a severely misspent youth, it’s inevitable that some of your body parts don’t work as smoothly as they did a few decades ago. It may be tempting to blame that on the punishment you’ve inflicted on your body during years on playing fields, ice rinks and jogging paths – but the truth is more likely the other way around.

Researchers have a good idea of the average rates of decline you can expect for various systems. And for almost every sign of aging you can think of – muscle loss, weight gain, artery hardening, joint stiffening – there have been studies suggesting exercise slows it down…

There are also some neat graphics there, though the formatting is a bit messed up. Hopefully they’ll get cleaned up as the day goes on.

Arthritis, exercise and obesity: some unexpected results

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)

***

A couple of recent studies worth noting, one surprising, the other not.

First, there’s a new Cochrane Systematic Review recommending exercise as a form of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, to improve “functional ability.” It’s already fairly well-established that exercise is helpful for osteoarthritis, which is the more common (about 1 in 10 people will get it) and better known form of arthritis. But the evidence about exercise and rheumatoid arthritis, which is less common (about 1 in 100 people will get it), is a little thinner on the ground, so the Cochrane review is interesting.

“Based on the evidence in this study, we would recommend aerobic capacity training combined with muscle strength training as routine practice for RA patients,” said lead researcher Emalie Hurkmans of the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, Netherlands. “But we need more research to establish the recommended length and type of exercise programs, whether patients need to be supervised and if these programs are cost effective.”

All of this makes the second study a little more surprising. In a mouse study, Duke University researchers found that obesity, on its own, does not cause osteoarthritis. Because of the strong link between arthritis and obesity as a risk factor (one of the reasons exercise is so important), researchers have assumed that the extra weight puts strain on joints, which then leads to degeneration and ultimately arthritis.

But in the new study, researchers used mice that either didn’t have or couldn’t process the hormone leptin, which helps to regulate appetite. No matter how fat these mice got, they didn’t have an elevated rate of arthritis. Mice with normal leptin levels, on the other hand, developed significant knee arthritis when they got just half as fat as the leptin-free mice.

So what’s going on? It’s not clear, since leptin influences factors like body weight, inflammation, sex hormone levels and bone metabolism, all of which could affect the development of arthritis. What it implies is that loading your joints with extra weight isn’t what causes arthritis — the strong link between obesity and arthritis appears to be chemical instead.

“We knew from other studies that obese people got arthritis in their hands, too, which don’t bear weight. This indicated that something besides just body-weight level affected their joints,” [one of the researchers said].

Just to reiterate: the link between arthritis and obesity is as strong as ever. It’s just the mechanism that isn’t as simple as we thought.