Monthly Archives: January 2013

Iron juggling

I already mentioned how I use resistance bands for strength training, using them primarily for upper body exercise, while also doing push-ups, and bicycle crunches.

Here are some other things I use for strength(or resistance) training:

Use a walker to do dips: Just like the dip bars at the gym, you can use a walker to do the same thing. Great for improving upper body strength.

Juggle with heavy balls: These balls are tennis balls that were stuffed with pennies and sealed shut with epoxy and duct tape. Not only do they help strength train the muscles used for juggling, their weight may also make a deeper imprint on muscle memory so that I juggle better. They weigh 1 pound each, which isn't much but after several minutes it does get tiring.

Juggle with heavy balls: These balls are tennis balls that were stuffed with pennies and sealed shut with epoxy and duct tape. Not only do they help strengthen the muscles used for juggling, their weight may also make a deeper imprint on muscle memory so that I juggle better. They weigh 1 pound each, which isn’t much but after several minutes it does get tiring.

Ankle weights: A necessity for building strength in the legs for runners. But they shouldn’t be used while running, that can increase the risk of injury. This is the All-Pro brand, I’ve had them for almost 10 years and they have served me well. The velcro has deteriorated a bit unfortunately, but it’s not a major problem.

Medicine ball: This helps build explosiveness, especially when you throw it. You can also do a variety of lifts with this to help build ab muscles. I made this myself, it’s just a basketball full of sand. It weighs about 23 lbs.


Hand exerciser: Jogglers need to have strong hands!
If anyone has any recommendations for equipment or strength-training exercises, please let me know.


Trader Joe’s 17 Bean & Barley Mix

IMG_0646Trader Joe’s 17 Bean Mix is terrific for making a hearty winter soup. It has baby lima beans, black turtle beans, blackeye peas, dark red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, green lentils, green split peas, large lima beans, light red kidney beans, navy beans, pink white beans, yellow split peas, and pearl barley(if I am missing something, let me know). I’m used to eating just one type of bean or lentil in a meal, so this was an interesting change last night.

It has 13g of protein per serving, but I made and ate about 3 servings. I soaked the bean mix overnight, then cooked them in vegetable broth, along with kale, olive oil, black pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder for about 50 minutes. I had a little bread on the side. It was a very filling meal, full of so many different textures and subtle tastes, due to all the different types of legumes.

It was delicious, but the only problem was that the smaller lentils and beans cook a lot faster than the larger ones. So the lentils have to be turned to mush just to ensure the kidney beans are soft and cooked enough. This is the reason I usually prefer cooking just one type of legume.

Other than that, you can’t go wrong making soups or stews from this. It’s a great, high protein meal to come home to after joggling for several miles in the cold.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

2209863697_541804d903One of the largest and grandest of Orthodox churches in New York City is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Although I am not an Orthodox Christian, I can admire the ancient architecture of this Cathedral, as if it was an over-sized gift from Russia. While it looks like a church in Russia, or even Ukraine, it is located at 228 N 12th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was built in 1921. The style of the cathedral is pretty typical of Russian Orthodox churches, mixing Byzantine and ancient Slavic architecture, most notably the characteristic onion dome.

In fact, the Cathedral looks so Russian, I probably could have fooled some of the people reading this into thinking I just got back from Russia. Williamsburg, Brooklyn is just across the east river from Manhattan, so it’s a short subway ride away, or if you prefer, you can walk across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Williamsburg bridge. Or if you’re a good swimmer, just use the river.

In recent years, Williamsburg, and the neighborhoods surrounding it have been on the rebound both economically and culturally, with hipsters, yuppies, and bohemians flooding into these formerly rundown industrial areas. The Cathedral is situated at the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which is often called “Little Poland” because of the large Polish Catholic community in the neighborhood(there are many Slavic peoples in the area, but Poles are the largest group). Williamsburg, on the other hand, has a large Orthodox Jewish community as well as a very ethnically mixed area with a thriving arts and music scene, which extends into Greenpoint. Greenpoint also has a growing Hispanic community.

A little further south, the neighborhood of Parkslope, which is adjacent to Prospect Park, also has a thriving arts scene, but is more upscale. In spite of resistance from long-time residents, who tend to be opposed to the construction of condos, Parkslope has become very “yuppified” in recent years, feeling more like Manhattan than Brooklyn in many ways.

Increasingly, many vegan and vegetarian restaurants have been sprouting up like alfalfa sprouts in the neighborhood, along with many Asian restaurants. Prospect Park is basically Brooklyn’s version of Manhattan’s central park, so it’s a terrific place to joggle or for bird-watching. Some areas of the park have been set aside for reforestation and are off-limits to homo sapiens, but not to squirrels or birds. The neighborhoods to the east of the park suffer from a lot of violent crime which sometimes spills over into the park, so be careful.

There is so much more to discover in Brooklyn, this is just a small slice of it.

Eclampsia strikes Downton Abbey

Eclampsia isn’t a word that easily rolls off most people’s lips. Unless of course you saw the most recent episode of the British period drama, Downtown Abbey, in which a major, beloved character died from eclampsia shortly after giving birth. Downton Abbey’s portrayal of eclampsia was, to my knowledge, very accurate. It was also vivid and very heart-breaking, especially when this death could have(supposedly) been prevented if Sybil was taken to hospital. Although I did not cry, some friends of mine who are big fans of the program cried for several minutes straight and are still teary-eyed.


Lady Sybil Crawley

Since I am not a huge fan, I’ve missed a few episodes here and there. That said, Sybil was my favorite of the 3 aristocratic Crawley sisters. She was the most free-spirited and a strong supporter of women’s rights in a society that was still very sexist and patriarchal. She also wasn’t a snob, in a very classist society, in spite of her upper class English upbringing, exemplified by her marrying the family’s Irish Catholic revolutionary chauffeur(talk about a mixed marriage!). All this made her easy to identify with, except to misogynistic snobs, so her death was a huge loss for the show.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details, but basically, her father, Robert Crawley(Earl of Grantham) comes off looking sort of like a villain now, even though he didn’t kill anyone on purpose(some Anglophile friends of mine who are fans of the show want to run over to England to kill him). Although they already had a highly-qualified family doctor, Dr Richard Clarkson(who has made a few mistakes here and there, none resulting in any deaths to my knowledge, though some may dispute this) to deliver the baby, her father, the Earl of Grantham, decided to bring in a more aristocratic yes-man kind of doctor to take care of his daughter. This new doctor effectively overruled Dr Clarkson who believed Sybil needed to be taken to hospital due to her pre-eclampsia.

The new doctor that everyone now loathes didn’t think the symptoms were a big deal, and, sadly, convinced Sybil’s father that they weren’t a big deal. As said before, Sybil eventually died from eclampsia, a rare though often fatal complication of pregnancy. It causes terrible seizures and the complete disruption of breathing, resulting in coma and death. We still don’t know for sure what causes this terrible condition.

The merits of this turn of events on the story that is Downtown Abbey isn’t the point of this post, but the disease of eclampsia is. It seems a lot of people blame her father, Lord Grantham, for Sybil’s death, for ignoring Dr Clarkson’s concerns and not taking his daughter to hospital. Yet, that just as easily could have killed Sybil, due to the primitive state of medicine in 1920. Modern scientific medicine was in its infancy, antibiotics were not available and surgical instruments weren’t properly sterilized, at least according to today’s standards. Even today, many people die due to medical errors in hospitals, though medical care has drastically improved since the 1920s.

Could Lady Sybil have been saved? I honestly do not know, as I am not a doctor, or medical historian, but I am very much fascinated by the subject. Based on my readings, a C-section done early enough could have possibly saved her, so long as the hospital conditions and surgical instruments didn’t give her a terrible illness. As said before, this was a risky procedure back then. Another possibility is intravenous magnesium sulfate, which had just been recently introduced as a treatment for pre-eclampsia.

I am not sure if it was widely available as a treatment in England at the time, but it should have been, since magnesium sulfate is better known to the world as Epsom Salt. The town of Epsom, near Surrey, has a spring that is rich in magnesium sulfate(hence the name) and wasn’t too far from Downton Abbey(which was in northern England). Another town where magnesium sulfate occurs plentifully is Magnesia, in Greece. This common laxative sure has an interesting history. According to: A Historical Overview of Preeclampsia-Eclampsia

In addition to the diverse approaches to manage preeclampsia-eclampsia in the 20th century, the use of magnesium sulfate was introduced. Although a mainstay of current treatment, it was not until 1906 that Horn first used magnesium sulfate to manage preeclampsia-eclampsia (Chesley, 1984). During the 1920’s, the parenteral use of magnesium sulfate in the treatment of preeclampsia-eclampsia was popularized by Lazard and Dorsett (Chesley, 1984), for Dr. Lazard’s work (as cited in Gabbe, 1996) demonstrated that treatment with intravenous magnesium sulfate was both efficacious and safe.

Pre-exclampsia is also called toxemia, due to toxic levels of certain proteins found in the urine of sufferers. Although the exact cause of this is still not known, genetics likely play a role, along with “toxins”. In fact, vegetarians and vegans appear to have significantly lower rates of eclampsia, possibly due to not getting overloaded with the toxins that accumulate in animal fat: Preeclampsia and reproductive performance in a community of vegans

Studies at “the Farm,” a community of spiritually gathered young people in Summertown, Tenn, have shown that it is possible to sustain a normal pregnancy on a vegan diet. The source of dietary protein (ie, animal or vegetable) does not seem to affect birth weight, as long as vegans are health conscious, receive continuous prenatal care, supplement their diets with prenatal vitamins, calcium, and iron, and apply protein-complementing nutritional principles. Preeclampsia may be caused by a relative prostacyclin deficiency in the face of excessive production of thromboxane A2. A vegan diet (one low in arachidonic acid) might provide protection against this condition, especially if the conversion of linoleic acid to arachidonic acid is inhibited by decreased activity of the enzyme delta-6-desaturase. We examined the maternity care records of 775 vegan mothers for symptoms of preeclampsia, and only one case met the clinical criteria. Since preeclampsia in our culture is frequently associated with unrestrained consumption of “fast foods” (foods having high levels of saturated fat) and rapid weight gain, it is possible that a vegan diet could alleviate most, if not all, of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia.

People who eat a plant-based diet or try to eat healthy use the word “toxins” as an umbrella term to refer to what they are trying to avoid: pesticides and industrial chemicals that find their way into the food supply, which have a tendency to accumulate in animal fat. Sometimes this use of the word “toxins” has merit, sometimes it doesn’t. Though we have ways of removing or detoxifying many of these potentially harmful chemicals from our bodies, there is some evidence that they play a role in cancer, Parkinsons disease and other conditions. Through the process of biomagnification, these toxins can accumulate to high levels in animal fat, which may be one of the reasons vegetarians tend to have lower rates of heart disease and some other diseases. The higher up an animal is on the food chain, the more concentrated the toxins become – this is why big fish tend to be much more toxic than small fish.

Yorkshire, England

Yorkshire, England. Source: Wikipedia

As ridiculous as it sounds, if Sybil had been a vegetarian, it could have prevented the eclampsia, and it would have easily fit with her free-spirited personality and progressive politics. Some British progressives of the era were vegetarians, like George Bernard Shaw, and Henry Stephens Salt. Interestingly enough, the founder of the modern veganism movement, Donald Watson(1910 – 2005), was born in Yorkshire, the county in northern England where the fictional Downton Abbey is located(though the Highclere Castle itself is actually located in southern England).

Eclampsia, unfortunately, is still with us, and kills many pregnant women, especially in poor countries. Now I fully realize this is fiction, but let’s imagine Lady Sybil had been a real, breathing person: my non-medical opinion is that Lady Sybil would have been better off being taken to hospital since even though whatever treatment they may have used would have been very risky, not treating her very serious medical condition was even riskier.

Can you relieve stress with juggling?

For me, the answer is definitely yes, but this isn’t evidence that it can help others deal with stress. Few things are like juggling 3 or 4 balls, and doing tricks to forget about certain stressful problems or to gain a different perspective on them. It puts me into a different brain zone where it seems problems are both smaller and more manageable. Indeed, effectively dealing with various responsibilities and stressful problems is not unlike a juggling act.

What does science have to say about this? We are very fortunate that some scientists did put the title question of this post to the test and did some good, though preliminary research: Effect of juggling therapy on anxiety disorders in female patients published in Biopsychosoc Med. 2007; 1: 10:

After 6 months, an analysis of variance revealed that scores on the state anxiety, trait anxiety subscales of STAI and tension-anxiety (T-A) score of POMS were significantly lower in the juggling group than in the non-juggling group (p < 0.01). Depression, anger-hostility scores of POMS were improved more than non-jugglers. In the juggling group, activity scores on the vigor subscale of POMS and FAI score were significantly higher than those in the non juggling group (p < 0.01). Other mood scores of POMS did not differ between the two groups.

These findings suggest that juggling therapy may be effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

This sounds promising, but this study did have many limitations. For one thing, it involved only 17 people, all of them female. Also, the effect from the juggling may be due to the juggling helping the test subjects relax; any other relaxation therapy may have achieved the same results. Similarly, juggling is a form of light exercise, which can also help relieve anxiety. Unlike yoga or meditation, juggling does increase gray matter in the brain, possibly in a manner that may make it more resistant to stress or depression, although this is speculation on my part. After all, a person whose brain is more “adaptive” is probably better able to adapt to stressful conditions. I think the control/non juggling group in this study should have done light aerobic exercise, to see how juggling compares to exercise in general.

There is also the issue of EMDR therapy that was covered in the study:

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been consistently evaluated as effective for treating several anxiety disorders, inclucing PTSD [6], panic disorders [7], and phobias [8]. Although conflicting data has been reported for the efficacy of EMDR [9], this therapy is considered to be of low to moderate level of efficacy [10]. Originally, research on this therapy found that moving the eyes rapidly in a side-to-side motion reduced disturbing thoughts and related anxiety [11].

So rapidly moving the eyes side-to-side, all by all by itself can help relieve anxiety? That is intriguing. I suggest reading the full study since there is a lot of interesting information in there. This research is promising, but a lot more needs to be done.

Ruins of house overlooking Long Island Sound at Rye Marshlands

2202698309_f55873b179_bThis is all that remains of a house that once stood here many decades ago, in Rye, New York. You can see the Long Island Sound in the background. Even less is known of this place than the ruins of the Parson’s Mansion up the road. There are no ghosts around to tell its story, at least I’ve never met any at this preserve.

These ruins are located in the Marshlands Conservancy in Rye. It’s a not a large nature preserve like the Rockefeller Preserve, but it is a great place to go bird-watching, or joggling, except in the more swampy areas. In the summer the mosquitoes may overwhelm you.

2203478842_e62b0967f0_bIf you very lucky, you may spot a whale by the shore. You will almost certainly see deer if you spend more than a few minutes in this small island of wilderness. Unfortunately, lots of deer means lots of deer ticks that spread Lyme Disease, so take precautions so you don’t get bitten. The area around the heavily forested preserve has a lot of stately mansions, some of which are architectural marvels. The feel of the area is a little reminiscent of Newport, Rhode Island, but the mansions aren’t as grand or historic, and the area isn’t nearly as touristy. It is mostly locals who go hiking in this nature spot. New England is a stone’s throw away, just a few miles north, so this area has a “New England” kind of feel to it.

The sea breeze during the warmer months is simply delicious. They sometimes have guided tours, and it is only 26 miles(41.8 km) north from the big city.



The winter reds, and blues

2208147575_dc5f255bdfI hope everyone is having a splendid winter so far. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to engage in outdoor or even indoor exercise this time of year due to the winter blues. Some people may even experience major depression caused by the shorter days, and may find it difficult to crawl out of their warm, cozy bed. If it is very cold outside, some folks won’t even venture outside.

In part, genetics may play a role. Indeed, slowing down and feeling depressed during the winter may be related to the hibernation response in other animals- Metabolic depression in hibernation and major depression: an explanatory theory and an animal model of depression.

This is fascinating research. It’s not necessarily easy to “prove” anything either way with this kind of speculation; even if it were “proven” that depression is related to hibernation, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “hibernate” if you feel depressed, unless you are a bear. Understanding that there is a connection between the two could lead to a better understanding of depression and more effective ways to overcome it.

What we know already may already be helpful for some. In many animals, the hibernation response is turned on by light deprivation due to shorter winter days and/or lower temperatures. SAD(seasonal affective disorder) is a form of depression that tends to affect people more during the winter. Lack of light may play a role, and so logically, “light therapy” by using a light box in the morning may be beneficial for those affected – Seasonal affective disorder: an overview.

If you have eye problems though, using a light box may not be a good idea. It doesn’t work for everyone since the brain is very complex and we all have our own unique biochemistry. Some people are more sensitive to light than others. Whatever you do, keep on exercising, and try to expose yourself to extra light in the morning if you have SAD. If you think you have serious depression, seek professional help.

I must admit that I sometimes feel a little blue in the morning this time of year, but a quick juggle or some exercises and turning on all the lights seems to help me quickly overcome it. It is nothing serious luckily. I never drink coffee or caffeinated beverages, so I have to rely on intense exercise, and sometimes eating or drinking something very spicy to help wake up my system.

I don’t joggle early in the morning usually(though I often juggle a little), since I tend to drop the balls too much if I joggle soon after waking(the darkness doesn’t help) and I often don’t have the time anyway. I just do it later in the day. On the rare occasion I do a long, very early morning joggle(I mean around 5:30 AM to 7:00 AM), I notice I am slowly improving. Ideally, I’d like to do more joggling at this time of day, and so I continue to study various approaches to quickly overcoming early morning grogginess without caffeine. I’m open to any new suggestions.

The mighty flaxseed

It is for good reason that many people sing the praises of flaxseeds. I’ve even written songs about them; some people may love to sing about red wine or cocktails, but I prefer singing about flaxseeds.


Source: Wikipedia

They are a very healthful addition to any diet, due to their unique nutritional contents that are difficult to get elsewhere. Not only are they a great source of fiber, but they also contain the essential fatty acid ALA, and also contain lignans which have phyto-estrogen effects.

Flaxseed has a lot of ALA(alpha-linolenic acid), which is one of the 3 main types of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for the body’s metabolism. The 2 other types of omega 3s, EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid), are not found in flaxseed, but are plentiful in fish oil. The body has a very limited ability to convert ALA to EPA or DHA, so we are better off getting it through diet. Omega 3s are important because they help suppress inflammatory processes that may be damaging to the heart or other organs. The benefits of DHA are so widely recognized that many food companies fortify their products with it. DHA and the other omega 3s are particularly important for pregnant and nursing women, since DHA is needed for optimal brain growth.

If we look at a randomized, controlled study of omega 3 and omega 6 supplementation on children reported in Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1360-6. – The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder.

“No effect of treatment on motor skills was apparent, but significant improvements for active treatment versus placebo were found in reading, spelling, and behavior over 3 months of treatment in parallel groups. After the crossover, similar changes were seen in the placebo-active group, whereas children continuing with active treatment maintained or improved their progress.”

This study wasn’t about flaxseed per se, but did use a fatty acid that is found in flaxseed. Flaxseeds may be helpful for preventing prostate cancer:

“Findings suggest that flaxseed is safe and associated with biological alterations that may be protective for prostate cancer. Data also further support low-fat diets to manage serum cholesterol.”

This is really impressive, and this just involves the omega 3s in flaxseed. The lignan content of flaxseeds are a whole other exciting ball game. Flaxseeds are by far the best source of lignan, containing hundreds of times more than almost all other plant foods. Lignans are phyto-estrogens(similar to the phyto-estrogens in soy) and may help prevent breast cancer, according to research done at Linköping University, due to their powerful hormonal effects. They may not only lower blood estrogen levels but may also lower testosterone levels. The testosterone lowering effect may concern some men, but I don’t think it is a cause for alarm based on the evidence. More research is obviously needed, but I’ll continue to sing about them in the mean time.

The best way to eat flaxseeds is to ground them yourself in a small coffee-grinder, or to use the oil as a supplement or salad dressing. Never use the oil for cooking, omega 3s aren’t heat stable. Flaxseeds also contain significant amounts of protein and minerals. No wonder many people call it a “Super Food”.

Can you be fat and fit?

Many people might think it is ridiculous to ask such a question since, to them, the answer is obvious. “Fat and fit? Give me a break!”, they might say. Science on the other hand says something very different.


Source: Wikipedia

Luckily, Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute, in Dallas, Texas decided to put this question to the test. Needless to say, the results of his research sent shock-waves across the world, due to their counterintuitive conclusions. Among their findings: ” 1) regular physical activity clearly attenuates many of the health risks associated with overweight or obesity; 2) physical activity appears to not only attenuate the health risks of overweight and obesity, but active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary (emphasis mine)

This is remarkable. It seems to suggest that regular exercise is more important than weight loss. So if you are overweight, and you regularly exercise, don’t get frustrated and give up if you don’t lose weight, there are many other benefits from exercise besides weight loss.

The findings from this study and similar ones also relate to the TOFI(thin outside, fat inside) phenomenon I did an earlier post on – Are you a Tofi?

This doesn’t mean if you are significantly overweight but are still healthy, you shouldn’t try to lose weight.

The lessons to be learned here are: No matter what your weight is, exercise is beneficial. If you are overweight but not losing weight, keep exercising. Also, being slim doesn’t mean you are metabolically fit, so slim people still need to exercise to be healthy.

It’s never too cold for outdoor exercise

IMG_0645I’m loving this cold weather! Bring it on! It was about 16 Farenheit(-8.8 C) when I joggled for an hour this morning. I sure did sweat a lot under all those layers, but I really had no choice. It was great seeing many other people out there running or power-walking. It seems they also adhere to the “No Excuses” approach to fitness, just like I do. It is the only approach that works.

I think my respiratory system is adapting to the cold, since I hardly cough anymore and I don’t suffer from shortness of breath like before. I think being in good health makes it easier to adapt to extreme weather and circumstances, so I am thankful for my health. It’s still flu season, so be careful and get a flu shot if you haven’t already.