Tag Archives: fitness

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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Science Tells Us What Works For Weight Loss

AsapSCIENCE makes short videos in which they explain the science behind various things — like hangovers — and then give you tips that make your life better. Their latest video has the dos (and a don’t) for losing weight:

  • Exercise: big surprise. The calories you burn during exercise come mostly from carbs; later, while you rest, it has no more carbs to get energy from, so it burns fat instead. So after you exercise, eat meat or cheese — not pasta. Also, don’t work out hungry, and your exercise routine should include weights, interval training, and metabolic resistance.
  • Don’t skip meals: when your body gets stressed out, it will release a hormone called ghrelin that makes you want junk food. That stress can be from working too much, not getting enough sleep, being too hungry, getting in a fight with your mistress, or what have you. You can resist that urge for a while, but your will power is limited, and your body will win out since it obviously always wins — otherwise you wouldn’t need to lose weight. (Crash diets don’t work for a similar reason.) So rather than skip a meal, eat a chicken breast and an orange, because that’ll keep you from giving in to pizza and a hot fudge sundae later.
  • Sleep as much as you need: see above
  • Avoid stress: you better have read that bullet about the ghrelin!


Not Ghrelin


  • Eat breakfast: not necessarily when you wake up, but eat when you first get hungry. That will keep your metabolism burning faster the whole day, and bring your blood sugar and hormone levels to where they should be.
  • Eat more meat: a little bit more protein keeps you full a lot longer. The body’s response to protein is to release a large amount of the peptide YY, which reduces appetite.
  • Eat low-fat dairy: the calcium binds to fat in your stomach and makes a substance that can’t be absorbed. The result: less fat gets from your food to your spare tire.
  • Drink soup and smoothies: thick liquids take a lot longer for your stomach to process, making you feel full longer than if the liquid and solid food were separate.
  • Count calories: studies show it does wonders for weight loss. Besides telling your brain what your body forgot (i.e., when to stop eating), it also shows you the price of junk food, when you realize that a can of soda and two cups of cherries have the same calories.
  • Use smaller plates: this is a psychological trick that makes the same amount of food look bigger, only because we want our containers to be overflowing with food. If you use smaller plates, you’ll be more satisfied with less food. There are other psychological tricks you can play on your brain, like having people tell you a meal had more calories than it actually did (which makes you feel full), or that your exercise routine is more effective than it actually is.

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From YouTube, via Neatorama

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

Thin, Older, Sleep-Deprived People Get More Strokes

A large study (5666 people) of those aged 45 and up who were not already at risk for stroke showed that the thin people (BMI between 18.5 and 25) that got less than six hours of sleep per night had 4.5x more chances of getting stroke symptoms over the three year study. Sleep is obviously very important — you can go for a week without eating and be more or less ok, but you’ll go crazy after that long with no sleep, — so that’s not the interesting part. What the researchers also found was that the same correlation was not seen in fat people: their chances of stroke didn’t go up.

Late Night Pizza Stop, by Juli Crockett


What’s even more interesting is that a study last year showed that people who are sleep-deprived eat about 300 calories more per day, and most of that in junk food. If you do that a couple of times a week and don’t do anything to burn the extra calories, it adds up to about 9 extra pounds a year (600 calories/week * 52 weeks/year ÷ 3500 calories/lb), which will make you fat in a few years. Put the two studies together, and maybe the body is trying to make sleep deprived people gain weight so that they don’t get strokes.

The moral of the story: if you absolutely can’t get enough sleep, just let your body do its thing and make you fat. But really, you should be getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising.

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From MSNBC, via Slashdot

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


Why Crash Diets Don’t Work

Your body is really not a fan of quick weight loss — or maybe it’s just the more primitive parts of your brain. In any case, a new study shows that you need a lot of will power to lose weight fast and keep it off, because even a year later, your body still remembers it used to be fatter. In its infinite wisdom, it will try to make you eat more, because it feels less secure in its ability to survive… in case you got stranded somewhere with no 7-Elevens. (Apparently this need to survive in unlikely scenarios trumps more likely concerns, like the ability to not get heart disease, the ability to be attractive, and the ability to go up stairs without wheezing and having people stare.) Metabolism was also down.

So that’s why people usually gain all the weight back, and then some. Which just reinforces what the fitness community’s been preaching for years: eat healthy, eat less calories and exercise — for the rest of your life. You’ll end up losing weight slowly (you also gained it slowly, since you probably didn’t gain 30 lbs in 3 months), and your body, like the frog in boiling water, will get used to being thinner and not raise alarms about it.

Details of the study? Sure: the (Australian) researchers put 50 fat people on a crash diet (550 calories/day, meaning a quarter of normal) for 2.5 months. They lost about 30lbs each, or 14% of their body weight; they also tested their blood for levels of hormones dealing with appetite and hunger, and they were in “eat more” mode. Then they went back a year later, and the people had gained back about 13 lbs each and were now down to 8% weight loss. They also measured their hormones again, and they were still telling people to eat more. For example, leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, was low; ghrelin, which says you’re hungry, was high.


Ghrelin is not the same thing as Gremlin


From The New England Journal of Medicine, via NPR

Eat Healthy To Lose Weight, And Other Myths

Livestrong has an excellent slideshow about the most common dieting myths. The biggest one they address is the myth that you can lose weight by doing something other than eating less calories than you burn — which is unpossible. In order to lose weight, the only thing that matters is calories in minus calories out. This includes the following dieting tips” we hear often:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to boost your metabolism. Your basal metabolic rate will stay pretty much the same as long as there’s enough food. This method might help you eat less calories per day, in which case it’s great — but eating six 300 calorie meals a day is the same as eating three 600 calorie meals.
  • Unprocessed foods will help you lose weight faster. It doesn’t matter if you eat 600 calories in apples or in twinkies; the only thing that matters is that you burn more of those calories than you eat. The nutrition professor that lost 27 pounds on a Twinkie diet proves this. Eating healthy is good for you in other ways, like disease prevention, but for weight loss only calories matter.
  • Eating fatty foods makes you fat — as if the fat from pork somehow bypasses your mouth and goes straight to your thighs. All food is processed by the digestive system and turned into energy; leftover energy is turned into fat. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, all from fat, but you burn 2,500, you’ll lose weight. If you eat 2,000 calories a day in proteins and carbs but you only burn 1,500, you’ll gain weight. The source of the calories is irrelevant.
  • Eating carbs makes you fat. Same idea as above — the number of calories is the only thing that matters, not where they come from.
  • White bread, rice, etc makes you fat. See the pattern? Whole grain bread may be healthier for other reasons, but eating a truckload of it will make you just as fat as eating a truckload of white bread.
  • Dairy makes you fat. Hopefully the overarching message has sunk in by now; if it hasn’t… wow. The interesting thing about dairy though, is that yogurt has actually been proven to help with weight loss, but the reason isn’t known — maybe it’s a mild appetite suppressant, since dairy should be disgusting.

    This is the guy that lost 27 pounds by eating Twinkies. TWINKIES.

  • You can trick your body into losing weight without decreasing calories. The reason diets like Atkins work is exactly because people reduce calories. How much meat and cheese can you eat without washing it down with a coke? Most diets that have a gimmick like that actually trick you into eating less calories, by removing high-calorie foods like sugar from your diet. So they trick the mind, not the body. As long as it works, kudos to them — but it’s not because they figured out some secret of getting the body to burn fat.
  • The Paleo diet will help you lose weight. If you eat less calories it will, otherwise it won’t do a thing. See above.
  • Eating late at night makes you fat. The idea here is that your body uses a tiny amount of energy while asleep, so all the food you eat before you go to bed will be turned into fat. In reality, you use just a slightly smaller amount of energy while sleeping, because you don’t move around as much. But your body still burns calories at a high rate, since it’s still making you breathe, keeping you warm, digesting food, etc. And it takes about 6 hours for it to digest a meal — unless you go out for a run after dinner instead of watching TV for a few hours, you’ll burn roughly the same calories as when you’re sleeping. Not to mention that what matters more is the calorie deficit on a longer time scale, like a few days or a week; not per meal or per day.
  • Diet sodas trick your body into getting fatter, because it makes your body crave more sugar. They (and regular sodas) may make your tolerance for sweets higher, but sweets aren’t crack.
  • Weight loss supplements work. Research shows that any effect they have is minimal. The only thing that is proven to work is diet and exercise.

A protein (myoglobin)


The article also sets us straight about protein, salt and sugar:

  • Sodium is not really that bad for you. It was another one of those things the government got wrong in the 1980s, like that fatty foods are bad for you. For people with high-blood pressure sodium is bad, but for the rest of us, it’s fine.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup, or corn sugar, is not worse than regular sugar. It would be like saying a punch in the face is worse than a kick in the face. They’re both just awful for you, and you should cut them out as much as you can.
  • There’s no 30 gram limit of protein that your body can digest from a meal.
  • Protein shakes don’t make you bulky. It depends how much protein shake you have, because per serving, they don’t have many calories.
  • Protein bars are really unhealthy, because they’re packed with a ton of sugar to cover up for the awful, awful taste of protein and make the bars palatable.
  • You don’t have to eat right after a workout just because your body burns protein like a champ about 2 hours after working out. Like in most cases, listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. If you don’t have enough protein, you’ll suddenly crave meat or nuts or whatever — your body is magic like that.
  • Protein is not bad for your kidneys, and has never been proven to be.

From Livestrong

Hungary Introduces Misguided Fat Tax

At the beginning of the month, a new law went into effect in Hungary which adds a 10 Forint tax (about 5 cents) to junk food, “products with high sugar, salt, and/or caffeine”. The stated reason for this tax is their appalling 18.8% obesity rate (which is still lower than the lowest American state), so the extra millions this tax will generate will go to the state health care system, because according to their Prime Minister, “those who live unhealthily have to contribute more”.


Hungarian dobos torte, from the Café Gerbeaud in Budapest


All of which would be well and good, if not for the fact that healthcare for fat people is cheaper. The biggest healthcare costs are associated with old age, when regardless of how healthy you are, you’re on all kinds of pills and in and out of the hospital more than the movie theater. And while fat people do cost more in healthcare up to old age, the fact is they die at a younger age than healthy people. The result is that over their lifetime, healthy people cost about 420k$ while obese people only cost 370k$. So what the Hungarian government is doing via this tax is exactly the opposite of what they want: they’re adding more costs to their healthcare system by creating an incentive to be fit.

Now, is it bad to be healthy and fit? Of course not. It’s just their reasoning that’s backwards. If they were actually being altruistic and said “we don’t want our population being fat because… ewww. And we’re willing to pay higher healthcare costs for it”, that would make perfect sense. But taxing fat people because they cost the healthcare system more is like putting an air travel tax on housewives instead of business men.

Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube


To be fair to Hungary, it’s not the only country that taxes junk food — it’s just the newest, and their law is the most comprehensive. But Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and other countries tax things like soda and candy and ban trans fats.

And on a different note, this kind of story is a big part of why many Americans are against a national healthcare system: once the government is responsible for the costs of healthcare, it can also pass laws to lower those costs. At least half of Americans don’t like their government also doubling as their nanny and telling them they can’t eat Pringles because trans fats have (erroneously) been banned to keep their health costs down.

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. (Gerald Ford)

Not that the lack of a healthcare system is much of a deterrent — New York City, Philadelphia and other places in the US already ban trans fats. And the federal government has been wrongly banning things for a century; for example, absinthe was banned from 1912 to 2007 because it caused epilepsy or hallucinations or madness, depending on who you asked, when in reality it does none of those things, or anything particularly bad.

From Spiegel Online, via Reddit and Neatorama

Personality Traits Of The Fat And Skinny

The National Institute on Aging did some very interesting analysis on a group of people they have been following for 50 years and tied a few key personality traits to measurements of adiposity: BMI score, waist size, body fat and hip size. They found some interesting, if not unexpected, correlations: impulsive and extroverted people tend to be fatter; and conscientious, disciplined, organized people tend to be skinnier. This makes sense because people who are impulsive tend to eat more, as do social butterflies since so many social events are based around eating and drinking. Disciplined people however, will have either the will power or coping mechanisms in place to navigate their daily life without over-indulging in calories or exercising enough. Note however, that the two sides aren’t mutually exclusive: disciplined people can be extroverted, and vice-versa.

The traits were taken from the Five Factor Model in psychology, which describes human personality by scoring subjects on each of five areas. From Wikipedia:

  • Openness – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.

What the researchers found was that people who scored high on the Neuroticism and Extraversion traits were fatter, and people who scored high on the Conscientiousness trait were skinnier. They went a little deeper though and made finer measurements of ‘facets’ in each of the five main  personality traits, which gave them even more insight. These facets are more practical concepts to grasp, so here are the ones that had significant correlation to higher body fat — 0 means no correlation, 1 means complete correlation:

  • 0.26 – Impulsiveness, the only facet of Neuroticism that was significant
  • 0.13 – Warmth, part of Extraversion
  • 0.12 – Assertiveness, part of Extraversion
  • 0.07 – Positive Emotions, part of Extraversion
  • 0.06 – Gregariousness, part of Extraversion
  • 0.05 – Competence, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.05 – Excitement-seeking, part of Extraversion

And the facets that had significant correlation to lower body fat, meaning a negative correlation higher body fat:

  • 0.12 – Order, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.10 – Self-discipline, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.09 – Straightforwardness, part of Agreeableness
  • 0.08 – Activity, part of Extraversion
  • 0.07 – Modesty, part of Agreeableness
  • 0.05 – Deliberation, part of Conscientiousness
  • 0.05 – Altruism, part of Agreeableness

So now we know why Paula Deen is fat and Michelle Obama is skinny. If you want to find out how much your personality puts you at risk for obesity, there’s a very good Five-Factor Model test here.

From The American Psychological Association