Vegfest WNY here I come!

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Yes everyone, the rumors floating around in the vegan-o-sphere are true. I am happy to report that I will be attending the first annual VegFest WNY in Buffalo, New York, on August 3rd, at 11 AM, and will joggle the Tofurkey Trot 5K. It sounds like it’s going to be a blast, a real extraVeganza! There will be delicious vegan food, inspiring speakers, live music, exhibits, dancers, acrobats, animal adoptions, and so much more.

If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it to the fest. There’s nothing like having fun and supporting a great cause. Special guest runners at the race include: George Laraque, Andrew Peters, Derek Walter & Steve Jenkins(Esther the Wonderpig’s Dads), and the Buffalo Joywalkers. What a list of inspiring vegan/veggie athletes/activists! Don’t forget that this is a run or walk event.

Thanks to Veganpathways and all the other vegans in west New York for making this possible. You guys are amazing; I wouldn’t be surprised if all of western New York goes vegan thanks to your efforts. When I’m not busy munching on delicious vegan food, or dodging buffalo stampedes, I’ll be more than happy to give free juggling lessons to anyone interested. I promise to keep my bad jokes to a minimum.

I’m really looking forward to this big celebration of the vegetarian lifestyle and the race, and meeting so many other like-minded vegans. I can already feel the energy! Above all, let’s have fun and make this a day to remember!

Your support of WNY Vegfest will benefit Asha Sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, and Food Not Bombs

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Excellent cannibalism talk by Diana Fleischman

If you are interested in cannibalism, or biology in general, you should listen to this Cannibalism Talk by evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman. I didn’t realize just how many sub-types of cannibalism there were before I listened to this. She doesn’t just cover human cannibalism, she also discusses cannibalism in many other species, and explains why this behavior evolved. Some species will even eat their own offspring! After all, as she often says, the flesh of your own species is the best possible multi-vitamin.

Some of what she says made me feel nauseous, while other parts were funny. For those of you who don’t already know, Fleishman isn’t just a scientist, she’s a vegan. I think this gives her some deep insights into cannibalism that non-vegan biologists may have trouble understanding. I highly recommend listening to this talk and reading some of the well-researched articles on her Sentientist blog. All of them are gems. Her blog is one of the best science-based vegan blogs out there.

Secrets of speed joggling

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I’m not that fast of a runner, but lately I’ve been doing 10 mile joggling runs in a little less than 1:20, mostly without dropping. I even recently did a 5K in 21:39, which is a new record for me, and I didn’t even drop once. In fact, compared to how I was doing last summer, I am both faster and dropping less.

How is it possible to do this? Obviously, it takes a lot of practice. Once you get used to joggling, juggling while running becomes so hard-wired into your brain and muscle memory that the juggling is mostly automatic. Deciding when to switch from automatic mode to conscious control mode can be tricky. For complicated tricks, I have to put myself into conscious control mode, which means focusing more on the balls, and less on my surroundings. Obviously, I am in conscious control mode when there are many people and obstacles around. I don’t want to bump into anyone or have a ball hit someone in the face!

This is why most people do their speed work on tracks or on paths with no obstacles. The “rules” of course are rather simple: Let your running set the rhythm, and the faster you run, the faster and lower your juggling pattern. I learned this from Perry Romanowski and Joe Salter, two amazing jogglers whose joggling tips were extremely valuable for helping me improve my joggling. These rules are actually the basic rules of joggling, but it is helpful for even experienced jogglers to review them and make sure they are adhering to them.

Besides this, what I do to try to joggle as quickly as possible is to try to expend as little energy as possible on the juggling, so my leg speed is minimally compromised. One way I try to do this is to try to harness as much energy as possible from the up and down bounce of running to help my arms throw the balls. I even try to take this to the extreme of trying to not throw the balls at all, I just have them effortlessly bounce off my hands in a juggling pattern. Okay, so I don’t actually do this, but sometimes I like to think I come a little close to achieving this energy efficiency ideal while speed joggling. There are times when I try to pretend that the balls aren’t even there and I am not juggling; I have mixed success with this crazy approach.

Sometimes I also like to think of my arms as propellers helping to push me forward; just because I’m juggling while running doesn’t mean I can’t use my arms like other runners. This probably doesn’t help, but we like to think it does.

All the ordinary rules for improving speed among runners apply:

  • Interval run once a week
  • Hill runs once or twice a week
  • One long slow run once a week
  • A short speed run once a week or every 2 weeks

For intervals, I alternate between 30 second maximum speed running with 30 second very slow running for 13 minutes. Before I do the intervals, I run slowly for 5 minutes to get my muscles ready. Intervals can be brutal. I rest and eat a recovery snack or meal after this, and may do a separate 5 mile run later in the day. I used to do 5 mile runs immediately after doing the intervals, but I stopped doing this when I noticed no improvement. I also drink probiotic beverages or eat fermented vegetables to help prevent gastric distress while running fast or long. I think it helps.

What do you do to improve your speed? And if you’re a joggler, how do you speed joggle?

 

Congratulations, Julia!

Let’s all congratulate my friend Julia on her greatest running accomplishment, her completion of the 55 mile Cateran Trail ultra-marathon, her very first ultra! What an adventure this was for her. You can read about it here: One Epic Chase On The Cateran Trail

Very inspiring story – she’s already thinking about running another ultra! I’m giving some thought into running this next year. It would be fun to run an ultra through the Scottish highlands!

Dancing and joggling genes?

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I sometimes say that anyone can learn to joggle. While this may not be entirely accurate, what I’m really trying to say is that it is not as difficult or as incredible as it looks.

What people see is the result of a ton of training. It has taken me many years to get the point where I am at now. I have joggled for thousands of miles, and just recently joggled my first 1,000 miles for the year.

What level am I at now? Last week, I did a 20 mile joggling run while it was in the mid 80s and humid. Several of those miles were on rocky, hilly, curvy forest trails. Surprisingly, I didn’t drop the balls even once, though I had to take 2 short breaks to cool off and drink some Gatorade. I even did a lot of tricks, especially in the first half. I was actually expecting to drop because of the heat, and how much I was sweating, and because of the rockiness of the trails. But it looks like my muscle memory didn’t fail me even in these extreme conditions. This isn’t the first time I’ve run 20 miles without dropping, but it was the first in mid 80s weather. I also did a 12 mile run last week, much of which involved joggling up the steepest hills ever(for me), and didn’t drop during the entire run. I was shocked, to be honest.

As much as I know this is the result of training, I can’t help but wonder if my genes give me an edge somehow. Alright, that sounds ridiculous even to me and those who know me best. I don’t come from a long line of gifted athletes, nor have I ever displayed any athletic ability before I took up joggling. Nor have I ever been a good dancer, which is similar to juggling and joggling.

While my research hasn’t lead to anything specifically focusing on juggling and genes, I did find an interesting study done on creative dancers which shows an interesting correlation between creative dance performance and certain genes. According to:
Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance:

The association between AVPR1a and SLC6A4 polymorphisms and creative dancing does not exclude the presence of the same polymorphisms in nondancing groups of subjects. Almost all of us dance and almost all of us have engaged in sports. What the current study suggests is that the combination of polymorphic variants contributing to creative dancing is overrepresented in the dancers. There is no reason to suggest that the nondancer athletes or the control group of nondancers/nonathletes are devoid of these polymorphisms, but the current study provides evidence that these variants are relatively scarce in other groups not specifically selected for the creative dancing phenotype. Importantly, we not only compared creative dancers to performing athletes but also validated the case-control design using a family-based study that avoids the conundrum of a comparison control group that might be “contaminated” with polymorphisms contributing to creative dancing. As for most complex traits, the effect size of these two genes is small and in Risch’s terminology will have small displacement.

These “dance” genes may play a role in coordination, but also show links with spirituality, and artistic creativity. They also seem to be linked with serotonin and brain anatomy. Serotonin plays an important role in the central nervous system. It affects mood and behavior, and many mind-altering drugs strongly influence our serotonin pathways.

It is difficult to disentangle what is really going on here, since genetics is very complicated and I lack expertise in it. I often claim that joggling is just like dancing, so it is possible these “dance” genes may influence a person’s joggling ability, though this is speculation on my part. Obviously, no matter how much a person trains, not everyone can reach the same level of joggling ability, just as not everyone can reach the same level of dance ability or martial arts ability. I do wonder sometimes if all the people I know who can’t even learn how to juggle may be genetically disadvantaged somehow.

However, none of this means that if you are trying to learn to joggle you should give up if you aren’t a good dancer or lack coordination. Keep in mind my background as a lousy dancer and even worse athlete, and how I started juggling and joggling while recovering from a car accident. The brain is very plastic; even if you lack these genes(assuming they give an edge to pursuits requiring coordination), it may still be possible to become a skilled joggler with enough practice.

 

 

Dr. Oz finally humbled

It should go without saying that I am not a fan of Dr. Oz. I’ve never actually talked about him on this blog before, but I have alluded to him many times. Dr. Oz sold out a long time ago, and this isn’t surprising for an Oprah protégé. Dr. Oz has long preyed on the gullible and scientifically illiterate; indeed, I believe he contributes to this nation’s scientific illiteracy.

Dr. Oz has long been America’s leading promoter of all sorts of weight loss scams, and many other forms of quackery/alternative medicine. The fact that he is a highly accomplished physician and cardiothoracic surgeon means he should know better. Whether or not he really believes in what he promotes on his show is beside the point. Only Dr. Oz knows what he really believes deep down inside.

When I first heard that Dr. Oz was going to testify at a congressional hearing about weight-loss scams, I wasn’t expecting much. So I was thrilled when Senator McCaskill asked him a lot of tough questions, and even went so far as to accuse him of being a liar! It was fun watching him squirm! I don’t think Dr. Oz was expecting this. In the words of Senator McCaskill:

I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true. So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show?

How many times I’ve thought of asking him questions like that! I’m sure many of you know what the “Dr. Oz effect” is. Dr. Oz mentions a new weight loss “miracle” on his show, and weight loss pill manufacturers immediately start cashing in. While Dr. Oz doesn’t make money from these pills, these types of programs certainly help boost his ratings. His audience probably wouldn’t be as big if all he ever promoted was diet and exercise for weight-loss, which is the only safe and effective weight-loss strategy. Of course, he does often mention exercising more and eating less, but it is still irresponsible of him to promote ineffective weight-loss pills to his audience. Many people watching his show get the idea that if they take these magic pills, they can eat all the bacon, cake, cookies, and ice cream they want(there’s even a sick phenomenon called “Bacon Mania“).

I find it interesting that the thing that bothers Dr. Oz the most is that his name and image are being used without his permission by unscrupulous supplement manufacturers, which makes him a “victim”. This is a legitimate concern, but what about all the people getting taken advantage of? Dr. Oz also insists that he believes in these pills, and if he was irresponsible in any way(besides using “flowery” language and being “passionate”), it was because he never told his audience to purchase pills from companies he finds reputable(I’m not sure if he will ever produce this list). This of course misses the entire point that if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, regardless of what company it comes from. Besides this, I hardly see Dr. Oz as a “victim”.

No one held a gun to Dr. Oz’s head and forced him to push weight-loss scams and other quackery on his show. He is not a victim. The real victims are the people who have wasted their money on the ineffective pills he’s promoted. Dr. Oz may not directly financially benefit from the pills, but he is as much a part of the problem as the pill manufacturers. Meanwhile, America continues to get fatter.

As a result of these hearings, I’m pretty sure Dr. Oz will tone things down a bit on his show to slip below the radar, but this will almost certainly hurt his ratings. I also don’t think these hearings have damaged his reputation, at least not with fans. He still has his cult-following, and I don’t believe any amount of information will sway them. For the conspiracy-minded, the fact that he was called in for questioning and asked all these tough questions is just more evidence(to them) of some vast, evil conspiracy that is trying to discredit quackery.

It’s been said so many times before, but it has to be said again: Weight loss does not come in a pill. It can only be achieved through exercise and eating less/eating more low calorie foods. Fitness is a lifestyle, not an activity. An active vegan lifestyle can be an effective weight-loss strategy.

Some great, in-depth articles about Dr. Oz:

Dr. Oz and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Great and powerful Dr. Oz: humbled by Senator Claire McCaskill

 

I got interviewed by the Victoria Vegan Fest!

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In case you’ve been outside of the Galaxy for the past year, you almost certainly know that Victoria, British Columbia is having its annual Victoria Vegan Fest on July 1st. Their promotional website features the “This is what a vegan looks like” campaign, in which they interview some awesome vegans and ask what being vegan means to them among other things. So 2 days ago, I was contacted by one of the organizers, David M Kong, who said he would like to interview me for their campaign. After thinking it over, I agreed, and here it is: This is What a Vegan Looks Like. David, you rock, you do so much for the vegan movement!

Don’t just read my interview, be sure to read all the interviews with all the other inspirational vegans. It truly is an honor to be featured there with terrific people like Krystle Charlton, Ryan Canty, Emily von Euw, and Hayley Zedel.

I would definitely go to this event if I lived closer. If you live anywhere near British Columbia be sure to drop by. It sounds like it is going to be one big extraveganza, with tons of delicious vegan food, entertainment, contests, and many speakers/performers who are doing amazing things for veganism.

Enough with the self-promotion. If you can’t make it to this event, whatever you do this summer, have fun, and live like every day is a vegan fest!

 

 

 

One legged exercising for balance

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Many runners and other athletes don’t often think about balance. Runners, in particular, are mainly concerned with speed and endurance, not balance. Yet doing some balance training may help improve your proprioception, which is the perception of your body’s position and movement. This may make you a better runner, especially in difficult terrain, and may decrease your risk of falling and injury.

Most of the balance training(besides joggling) I do involves juggling while standing on one foot. I really believe this has helped improve my balance, and my joggling ability. I’ll sometimes spin around on one leg(while juggling), to make it more challenging and to improve my balance further. This is also a great reason to learn to juggle, since this kind of training improves both coordination and balance. I can juggle up to 4 balls on 1 leg, and I am working on 5. Doing high throws can make this extra challenging – I usually drop the balls.

I often do this at home for a few minutes every day, but I prefer doing this when going on hikes in the woods, often on a narrow or pointed section of a big rock outcropping. This can make it even more fun, as well as more challenging. I’ll do this after joggling around for several miles, or on days when I’m not joggling. As I often say, the great outdoors is my gym. If I bring my resistance bands with me on a hike, I can do a total body workout in the middle of the woods! This is especially wonderful if I’m on top of a big hill with a spectacular view of the countryside.

For beginners though, I recommend doing this at home or on flat surfaces. If you can’t juggle, try shadow-boxing or doing arm exercises on one leg. Even some strength-training can be done on one leg, but be careful if you have a bad knee. Don’t start doing anything crazy on rocks. Work up to it gradually; slipping and banging your knee against a big rock doesn’t feel gneiss.

As I said before, doing some balance training may help prevent falls. In fact, among the elderly, not being able to balance yourself on one leg predicts injuries from falls. So people of all ages can benefit from this. For a more detailed look at this, check out: The Benefits of Balance Training for Runners, at RunnersConnect. There are many different types of balance training, and this just scratches the surface.

If you are learning to joggle and are making slow progress, some balance training may help improve your joggling ability.

What kind of balance training do you do, if any?

 

Hypnosis and sports performance

Hypnosis is the process of artificially putting a person into a sleep-like state, making them more open to the power of suggestion. It is usually regarded as an “alternative” kind of practice. Most medical doctors and mainstream medical organizations do not recommend it. Though we sometimes hear stories about people quitting smoking or overcoming phobias due to hypnotherapy, there is a lack of reliable evidence for efficacy. Besides this, hypnotherapy is notoriously difficult to study in a controlled setting. As R. Barker Bausell put it:

Hypnosis and the placebo effect are “so heavily reliant upon the effects of suggestion and belief that it would be hard to imagine how a credible placebo control could ever be devised for a hypnotism study”.

These complications aside, I did find an interesting study on hypnotherapy and soccer wall-volley performance: Assessing the immediate and maintained effects of hypnosis on self-efficacy and soccer wall-volley performance:

This study evaluated the effects of hypnosis on self-efficacy and soccer performance. Fifty-nine collegiate soccer players were randomly allocated to either a hypnosis (n = 30) or video attention-control group (n = 29). A pretest-posttest design with an additional 4-week follow-up was used. Self-efficacy was measured via a task-specific questionnaire comprising 10 items relating to good performance on a soccer wall-volley task. The hypnotic intervention comprised three sessions using ego-strengthening suggestions. The control group watched edited videos of professional soccer games. Results indicated that, following the intervention, the hypnosis group were more efficacious and performed better than the control group. These differences were also seen at the 4-week follow-up stage. Although changes in self-efficacy were associated with changes in performance, the effect of hypnosis on performance was not mediated by changes in self-efficacy. The study demonstrates that hypnosis can be used to enhance and maintain self-efficacy and soccer wall-volley performance.

So it does appear to have “worked”, though the “video attention” control group seems like a very strange, probably unsatisfactory method for controlling. Again, it is very difficult to placebo control for hypnosis since hypnosis is all about suggestion and so are placebos. I don’t think anyone argues against the benefits of “ego strengthening” or thinking positive, though this can be done without hypnosis(though overconfidence can be a problem for some). All we may be seeing here with this study are the generic benefits of positive thinking, not anything specific from the hypnosis.

It would be great if researchers could figure out a better way to study this. In the mean time, I’ll try to think more positively.

 

New research on juggling

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As I’m sure many of you already know, learning to juggle is associated with greater gray matter density in parts of the brain that control motion perception and hand-eye coordination. Not juggling for a long time tends to lead to the brain reverting back to “normal”(though some evidence suggests some brain changes are retained).

I’ve long wondered though if skill level when it comes to juggling is correlated with more gray matter. Earlier research has shown that even lousy jugglers have more gray matter in certain parts of the brain when compared to controls. Now more recent research shows that expert juggling is in fact correlated with higher gray matter density, compared to less skilled juggling. According to Juggling revisited – A voxel-based morphometry study with expert jugglers:

Juggling is a highly interesting tool to investigate neuroplasticity associated with motor-learning. Several brain-imaging studies have reported changes in regional brain morphology in visual association cortices in individuals learning how to juggle a three-ball cascade. However, to our knowledge there are no studies that investigated expert jugglers, looking for specific features in regional brain morphology related to this highly specialized skill. Using T1-weighted images and voxel-based morphometry we investigated in a cross-sectional study design 16 expert jugglers, able to juggle at least five balls and an age- and gender-matched group of non-jugglers. We hypothesized that expert jugglers would show higher gray matter density in regions involved in visual motion perception and eye-hand coordination. Images were pre-processed and analyzed using SPM8. Age was included in the analyses as covariate of no interest. As compared to controls jugglers displayed several clusters of higher, regional gray matter density in the occipital and parietal lobes including the secondary visual cortex, the hMT+/V5 area bilaterally and the intraparietal sulcus bilaterally. Within the jugglers group we also found a correlation between performance and regional gray matter density in the right hMT+/V5 area. Our study provides evidence that expert jugglers show increased gray matter density in brain regions involved in visual motion perception and eye-hand coordination, i.e. brain areas that have previously been shown to undergo dynamic changes in terms of gray matter increases in subjects learning a basic three-ball cascade. The extent to which transient increases in beginners and the differences in experts and non-experts are based on the same neurobiological correlates remains to be fully elucidated.

This isn’t that surprising. Similar brain changes can result from learning to play an instrument or learning to dance. Now if only they would do some research on joggling!