Why an exercise pill will never work

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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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On Friday, the second part of my series on athletic supplements will run in the Globe (see the first part here). Over the next few days, I’m going to post some information on other supplements that I couldn’t fit into the newspaper pieces — and believe me, there are plenty more!

Before I do that, though, I wanted to highlight a very interesting paper on “exercise mimetics” that appears in this month’s issue of Nutrition Reviews, by John Hawley (an Australian researcher who is one of the titans of research into nutrition and athletic performance) and John Holloszy. It’s a review of the adaptations within skeletal muscles and organs caused by exercise, trying to determine whether comparable benefits could ever be produced by an “exercise pill.” Martin Gibala, a top-notch research at McMaster University, pointed the paper out to me after reading this passage from my last column:

Last summer, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California made a splash by announcing an exercise pill that allowed mice to gain the benefits of vigorous exercise – all without setting a paw on their exercise wheels…

Hawley and Holloszy beg to differ. Continue reading “Why an exercise pill will never work”

The Ironman (R) mattress: new frontiers in recovery tech

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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The official Ironman (R) Mattress
The official Ironman (R) Mattress

We all know that sleep is a crucial part of recovery, and recovery is a crucial part of training. The solution: a mattress designed especially for runners and Ironman triathletes, as unveiled in this press release from the Ironman people. What can such a mattress do that normal mattress can’t, you ask? An even funnier press release, quoted by RunnersWorld, gives the sordid details. In addition to boasting a “soy-based, all foam eco-core,” the mattress

…is clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, boost the immune system, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and increase oxygen levels in the body by 29%.

Sounds good, but if it’s not going to boost my IQ and cure cancer, I’m not buying.

How fast do I have to walk to get fit?

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)

***

To count as exercise, walking is supposed to reach a “moderate” level of intensity, where you use about three times as much energy as you would lying on the sofa popping Cheetos. So how fast is that? According to a study by researchers at San Diego State University, it’s between 92 and 102 steps per minute for men, and between 91 and 115 steps per minute for women.

That’s assuming, of course, that you live in a home with a picket fence, a dog, and 1.4 children. Still, even if you’re not perfectly average, the researchers are comfortable drawing general conclusions:

We believe that these data support a general recommendation of walking at more than 100 steps per minute on level terrain to meet the minimum of the moderate-intensity guideline. Because health benefits can be achieved with bouts of exercise lasting at least 10 minutes, a useful starting point is to try and accumulate 1000 steps in 10 minutes, before building up to 3000 steps in 30 minutes.

So if you’ve got a pedometer (and I have the impression that pedometers are the “random branded freebie” most in vogue these days), now you know what to do with it!

Does aerobic exercise make you instantly smarter?

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)

***

It’s old news that exercise is good for the brain. Dan Peterson of 80percentmental does a nice job of summing up some of the benefits here: increasing blood flow to the brain, making new brain cells, managing glucose. We usually think of that in terms of long-term benefits — stay active to avoid losing your marbles.

That’s why a forthcoming study (now available online) in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise caught my attention. Continue reading “Does aerobic exercise make you instantly smarter?”

Getting older…

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)

***

We all are, obviously. These days, whenever I finish a workout that really wipes me out, I wonder whether I’m experiencing age-related decline, or whether I just had a good workout. I wrote about some of the ways we should change our exercise routines as we get older in a Jockology column last fall. But I didn’t have a lot of room to go into detail about the physiology underlying age-related decline — or some of the more subtle factors that affect us. For those who are interested, there’s a fantastic series on exercise and aging currently in progress at The Science of Sport, which is a site run by two sports scientists who trained with the legendary Tim Noakes in South Africa.

Two parts of the series have come out: the first is a general introduction to the topic, while the second goes over the basic physiology related to exercise and aging. A teaser: they begin by presenting the graph showing the best marathon performances for every age from teenagers to nonagenarians.

The Science of Sport's marathon vs. age graph
The Science of Sport's marathon vs. age graph

So that tells us the rate at which our performance will decline with age, right? Wrong — and that’s the whole point of their series:

However, in this case, that predicted decline is based on perhaps 50 DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS, and you’d be completely incorrect to assume that age causes a decline in performance that is predicted by the equation X. It doesn’t work that way.

Definitely worth a read…