Tag Archives: exercise

Jogging Creates The Most Brain Cells

The New York Times reports on a new study that had rats try three different kinds of workouts:

  1. Aerobic: running on a treadmill or wheel
  2. Resistance: climbing on a wall with weights attached, to simulate weight training
  3. High Intensity Training (HIT): running very fast, interrupted with periods of not doing that

They then measured how many new brain cells appeared after seven weeks of the routine, and found out that from most to least by group, it was aerobic, HIT, and then resistance — with the resistance group basically having no new brain cells. The HIT group had some, but not nearly as much as the aerobic group. Moral of the story: jogging makes you smarter.

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via The New York Times

Your Feet Pronating While Running Is In Fact Not An Issue

Danish scientists published a study on 900+ novice runners, whose feet they measured and classified to see how much they over- or underpronated. They gave them all the same, neutral shoe — with no pronation correction — and had them run as much as they wanted for a year. In the meantime, they noted all the injuries the runners suffered. What we’ve been told by running shoe stores lately is that pronation causes more injuries, but this study proved the opposite: the runners with neutral feet had slightly more injuries than the pronated ones.



Other researchers agree. “This is an excellent study,” says Bryan Heiderscheit, an associate professor of biomechanics and director of the running clinic at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The research reinforces a widespread belief among scientists studying running “that pronation doesn’t play much of a role” in injury risk, he says.

The runners all had the same shoes, which didn’t correct pronation, and the pronaters suffered less injuries. Ergo, corrective shoes are nothing but snake oil. Instead, you should just buy comfortable shoes, because many of the injured runners said their shoes weren’t.

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From The British Journal of Sports Medicine, via The New York Times and Lifehacker

We’re Drinking And Eating More, But At Least Smoking Less

Scientific American has a pretty interesting interactive graphic (there’s a non-interactive version below) that shows the trend, over the past 15 years, in five categories: heavy drinking, binge drinking, smoking, obesity and exercising. The top three causes of death are heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and too much eating, drinking, smoking and laziness are all causes of all of them, so this is important stuff.

However, it’s not easy to tell how much the figures changed using that graph. For example, binge drinkers went up from 14.1% of people to 15.1% and exercisers went up from 72.1% to 76%, which seems like a bigger deal, but in reality they both grew by about the same percentage. So instead of falling into the same trap, here, the stats are presented like stocks and ordered by the magnitude of the change, followed by the issues with the numbers:

  • Obesity: +74%
  • Heavy drinking: +69%
  • Tobacco use: -24%
  • Binge drinking: +7%
  • Exercise: +5%

So, obesity and drinking are way up, tobacco use is down a pretty healthy amount, and binge drinking and exercise are slightly up. Since exercise hasn’t changed that much, the giant increase in obesity can only be blamed on our diet, which makes sense given all the cheap food. That means we’re eating and drinking a lot more than we used to 15 years ago. And, thanks to the prolonged public education campaign, we’re smoking a good bit less.


And now, for the problems with the numbers

For binge drinking and exercising, the questions used are pretty ridiculous. We’ve talked about the binge drinking definition issue before: having five beers in five hours, five beers in one hour, and fifteen beers in five hours are all counted as binges. And the question asked about exercise is if you’ve done physical activity in the last month; if you helped someone move last week, that would count as exercise. Smoking is defined as “current smokers”, and there’s no category for the many people that are casual smokers and would not identify themselves as “current smokers”.

Heavy drinking is defined as having more than two drinks per man per day, but other researchers define it as more than three per day, including the study that showed conclusively that heavy drinkers live longer than teetotalers. Which brings us to the other problem: if drinking heavily is a habit important enough to our health to be tracked, then it seems like abstaining from alcohol should also be. The fact that it’s not, indicates that some morality factor is also present in the surveys.

Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more. The BMI is a 200-year old measure with such severe problems that it actually says about 40% of obese people are not obese. Why? Because it only uses height and weight, which is great for easy research, but awful for figuring out how fat someone is: if you have a lot of muscle and no fat, it will say you’re overweight. If you’re nothing but fat and bones, it’ll say you’re normal weight. Ideally, obesity would be defined by body fat percentage, not BMI, but that would be impossible to figure out over the phone. Bottom line: the survey says 27% of Americans are obese, but that number is probably more like 45%.

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Proper Running Form

The 30 second video below, made by Greatist, very quickly shows the elements to having great form while running.

In case you blinked:

  • The ball of the foot is the tough round part just under your big toe. Don’t land on that.
  • Don’t land on your heel either; it sends a lot of force up your leg.
  • Instead, the landing should strike just below the ball of the foot, at the mid-foot, under the arch.
  • Knees should be slightly bent as you land
  • Steps should be soft and springy, not heavy and hard
  • Land just in front of your center of mass, with your leg under your hip
  • Lean forward slightly to use gravity to propel your body, as if you’re always about to fall on your face but keep delaying it by stepping a foot in front of the fall
  • Drive your heel towards your butt after lifting it off the ground
  • Elbows should be bent at roughly right angles and drawn back

This advice agrees pretty well with what Runner’s World wrote on the subject last summer.

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From Greatist, via Lifehacker

Everyone Should Be Doing Squats

Last year, we saw a very interesting article explaining why you should quit your gym. It focused on how gyms are there to make money, not to make you fit, and therefore they deal in neophilia (new machines and workouts) and in getting you to spend as little time in the gym, crowding their machines, as possible. And it also said that gyms are pretty unnecessary, because you only really need to do four types of exercises:

These exercises work every major muscle group, but unlike the machines in the gym which isolate them, they also work the secondary, stabilizer muscles which prevent injury. In the same vein, the New York Times is now saying that everyone should be lifting weights — not just doing cardio like running and cycling — because besides being a good way to burn calories and prevent injury, weight training is also necessary to avoid the feebleness of old age. And if you only do one weight training exercise, it should be the squat.


The squat works almost every major muscle group and is the motion that people have trouble with when they get older: getting up. It can be done with a barbell, as shown above, or with regular dumbells, or with no weight at all (your arms crossed, or held straight out in front). In the video in the article, an expert explains how with weight training, heavy weights aren’t necessary as long as the muscle gets fatigued. It’s faster to get the muscle sore with heavy weights, but if you can do it by lifting lighter weights for longer, then you’ll get stronger either way.

In general, the expert — he’s Canadian, yet appears smart — says that cardio is a good exercise, but weights will help not only with strength, but also with the efficiency of the exercise. So even distance runners and cyclists will also benefit from weight training.

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From The New York Times, via Lifehacker

Those Who Exercise More, Make More Money

The link between salary and exercise has been known for a while now, but it’s always been a question of correlation versus causation: does exercising make you earn more, does earning more lead to more exercise, or does a third factor cause you to both earn and exercise more? All three avenues are plausible:

  • It is known that exercise stimulates the brain and makes you happier and healthier, so it could in turn make you more productive and easier to get along with at work.
  • Exercise requires a certain amount of leisure time: if you have two kids and no nanny, or two jobs, or both, you’re probably not likely to exercise that often. Whereas if you have the time and money to see a trainer three times a week, you’re probably going to exercise. Also, rich people tend to not be fat, so it could be that simply earning more leads to more exercise.
  • Exercise also requires a certain amount of traits like discipline and perseverance — traits that would also make you more valuable at work. So it could be that those traits cause both more exercise and higher earnings.

One new study attempted to figure out which of the three is the more likely scenario and, surprisingly, it looks like it’s the first.  It used a statistical method to isolate exercise itself as a cause of higher earnings, and the results show that even people who don’t normally exercise start making more money once they begin doing so. Besides the fact that all studies like this should be taken with a grain of salt to begin with, the researcher himself admits more studies need to be done before anything is conclusive. But, given that exercise is already known to help with all kinds of things — being happier, healthier, living longer, warding off Alzheimer’s, migraines and the feebleness of old age — the fact that it might also make you richer is just another reason to get moving.

Photo by becaro

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From The Journal of Labor Research, via Smart Money and Lifehacker

Jogging 3x A Week Helps You Live 6 Years Longer

The Copenhagen City Heart Study was started in 1976 and tracks about 20,000 people in that city in order to learn more about heart disease and other health issues. After 35 years, there’s a lot of data there, so the reseearchers decided to crunch it and find out if jogging really is good for you. They looked at about 2,000 joggers at various periods within the 35 years, recorded the amount of time they jog per week and the intensity they do it with, and compared their age at death with that of non-joggers. On average, jogging men lived 6.2 years longer than the non-jogging ones, and the women lived 5.6 years longer.


They also tried to figure out the best jogging regimen: the data shows that running three times a week for about 35 minutes (+/- 15) had the optimum correlation with life expectancy.

“The relationship appears much like alcohol intakes. Mortality is lower in people reporting moderate jogging, than in non-joggers or those undertaking extreme levels of exercise,” said [chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study, Peter] Schnohr. The ideal pace can be achieved by striving to feel a little breathless. “You should aim to feel a little breathless, but not very breathless,” he advised.

Jogging, like exercise in general, does all kinds of good things for the body: boosts the immune system, makes the heart work more efficiently, lowers blood pressure, makes the body more sensitive to insulin, prevents cancer, migraines, the weakness of old age, and Alzheimer’s among other things. Therefore, even though the joggers probably took better care of themselves in other ways too (e.g., diet, not smoking), it’s clear that there is causation at play here, not just correlation.

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From European Society of Cardiology, via The Atlantic

Laziness Correlated With Alzheimer’s

A study used Philips’ Actical device to measure the amount of energy 700 old people (average age of 82) expended. Over the course of the study, about 10% of those people developed clinical Alzheimer’s disease. The ones that did develop Alzheimer’s tended to consume less energy per day. And the lazier they were, the more demented they became. Sloth: just one of the deadly sins.

Sloth in the Amazon. Photo by Carol Schaffer


In related news, Nike makes a very cool energy-measuring device, called Fuelband, that looks like a futuristic watch, and it works with your iPhone. It has a “fuel” display that goes up throughout the day as you use more energy, so you can easily tell if you’ve been too lazy. If your fuel display is down in the red, you’re not doing well. It sells for 150$ in the Nike Store.

Nike Fuelband

From Neurology, via NPR

Overheating Is A Serious Barrier To Exercise

A study done by Stanford had two dozen middle-aged obese women walk on a treadmill for a mile and a half. Half the women got their bodies cooled by sticking their palms in a device that runs ice water through itself — kind of like a car radiator cools the engine. The other half also had their hands in the device, but water at room temperature ran through it. After three months: the cool women shaved five minutes off their walk, lost 3″ off their waist, and were more likely to not quit the study early.


Avacore Rapid Thermal Exchange


Walking 1.5 miles should take somewhere around 27 minutes, give or take, so shaving off five minutes is a pretty big deal: almost 20% faster; three inches thinner is also nothing to sneeze at. The NPR article on the study implies that overheating is mostly a psychological problem, possibly because if you overheat too much you’ll likely just faint. Elite athletes also overheat, but they push through it. Novices on the other hand, especially fat ones, think it’s the end of the world. It also doesn’t help that fat is an insulator, so the feeling of overheating gets worse the more of it there is.

The bottom line is that psychological or not, overheating is a significant deterrent to working out, and the more weight you need to lose, the more of a deterrent it is. As such, it’s important that measures are taken against overheating, because the less barriers there are in front of exercising, the better. The ice-water device used in the study is a non-starter because it costs 4,000$. But there are less expensive workarounds:

  • When working out, always wear clothing made out of moisture-wicking technical fiber. These fabrics use capillary action to make the sweat evaporate faster, which helps you sweat more, which helps to cool down more.
  • Run outside when it’s cool (around sunrise, after sunsent, in the winter) or work out indoors, with serious air conditioning
  • Put a lot of ice in your water bottle
  • Hold something cold in your hand and touch it to your face when overheating — ice pack, bottle of ice water, etc
  • Go swimming instead of running: the 80° pool water is like a giant cooler, and swimming is one of the best forms of exercising due to the use of the whole body and its low-impact nature
  • Go biking instead of running: even when it’s hot out, the breeze generated at 14mph does a lot to both cool you down and evaporate sweat; and it’s also a low-impact sport


Spoken Language Correlates To Long-Term Choices

An associate professor of economics at Yale wrote a very interesting paper (PDF) in which he compares good future-driven behaviors with not speaking a future-aware language. He noted the distinction between languages that have a strong future-time reference (FTR) requirement and ones that have a weak one: for example, English ranks as a strong FTR language because the language changes significantly when talking about the future (“It will be cold tomorrow”) compared to talking about the present (“It is cold today”). Contrast that with Finnish, which barely changes to account for the future: “Tomorrow be cold” vs “Today be cold.”

Most languages have a strong FTR: all Romance ones, most Slavic, Turkic, Iranian, etc. The language families that tend to have weak FTRs are Germanic, Chinese, Japanese and Sundic. (English, while a Germanic language, has been so heavily influenced by Latin and French that it has a strong FTR — the only other Germanic language besides Afrikaans to do so.)

Charlize Theron's first language is Afrikaans


The paper then compares this language trait with data that indicates a concern for the future: savings accounts, heavy smoking, physical activity, obesity. The idea being that if you smoke a pack a day, have 47$ in your bank account, spend your weekends on the couch and ate a cheesecake for dinner last night, you probably aren’t too concerned about the future. It turned out that speakers of languages with weak FTRs (like the Germans and Japanese) are a lot better about future-oriented behaviors:

Weak-FTR speakers are 30% more likely to have saved in any given year, and have accumulated an additional 170 thousand Euros by retirement. I also examine non-monetary measures such as health behaviors and long-run health. I find that by retirement, weak-FTR speakers are in better health by numerous measures: they are 24% less likely to have smoked heavily, are 29% more likely to be physically active, and are 13% less likely to be medically obese.

So there is correlation between how much a language emphasizes the distinction between present and future and how much speakers of that language prepare for the future. This is evident in the current economic situation in Europe: Germany (weak FTR) has to bail out Greece, Spain and Italy (strong FTRs). The author’s hypothesis is that speakers of languages like Finnish, in which present and future are pretty much treated the same, are more aware of the future because to them the future is now — so they tend to smoke less and save more. Whereas the French see the future as this far-off thing, so they smoke more and save less.


But is there also a causation between language and behavior? That’s a much harder question to answer: it could be that the language influences behavior, and it’s pretty unlikely that behavior influences language — people would have to migrate on a scale that’s probably a lot larger than observed. But it could also be that a third factor, like culture, influenced the way the languages developed, as well as the behavior. If, thousands of years ago, the Germans as a people were concerned about the future, maybe they didn’t care to make the distinction between present and future, but cared to save their gold. The author himself notes that it appears that language and culture both independently influence future-driven behavior, and that language doesn’t directly cause that behavior, but that it may affect it through an intermediary.

In marginally-related news, having a name that’s easy to pronounce has been correlated to being more likely to be promoted. That explains why Mitt doesn’t go by Willard.

From Yale (PDF), via Motherboard and Slashdot