Category Archives: exercise

Can ginger help with weight management?

If there is one spice I could talk about forever, it is ginger. Oh how I adore ginger. This amazing root is packed with so many different natural chemicals that give it both its pungency and medicinal effects.

I already did a post on how ginger’s anti-inflammatory effects may help relieve arthritis pain in Ginger spice and everything nice and pain relief, but let’s look and see if it has any other benefits. Based on a quick look at the literature, it looks like ginger may supposedly help promote feelings of satiety(fullness), though research is still at a preliminary stage. According to the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University, New York, NY, which I ran by not too long ago, in Ginger consumption enhances the thermic effect of food and promotes feelings of satiety without affecting metabolic and hormonal parameters in overweight men: a pilot study:

Evidence suggests that ginger consumption has anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, glucose-sensitizing, and stimulatory effects on the gastrointestinal tract. This study assessed the effects of a hot ginger beverage on energy expenditure, feelings of appetite and satiety and metabolic risk factors in overweight men. Ten men, age 39.1±3.3 y and body mass index (BMI) 27.2±0.3 kg/m(2), participated in this randomized crossover study. Resting state energy expenditure was measured using indirect calorimetry and for 6h after consumption of a breakfast meal with or without 2 g ginger powder dissolved in a hot water beverage. Subjective feelings of satiety were assessed hourly using visual analog scales (VAS) and blood samples were taken fasted and for 3 h after breakfast consumption. There was no significant effect of ginger on total resting energy expenditure (P=.43) or respiratory quotient (P=.41). There was a significant effect of ginger on thermic effect of food (ginger vs control=42.7±21.4 kcal/d, P=.049) but the area under the curve was not different (P=.43). VAS ratings showed lower hunger (P=.002), lower prospective food intake (P=.004) and greater fullness (P=.064) with ginger consumption versus control. There were no effects of ginger on glucose, insulin, lipids, or inflammatory markers. The results, showing enhanced thermogenesis and reduced feelings of hunger with ginger consumption, suggest a potential role of ginger in weight management. Additional studies are necessary to confirm these findings.

Well doesn’t that just sound fabulous? Of course, even if this is confirmed by subsequent research, it doesn’t mean overweight people should rely solely on ginger to help with weight loss. At best, the effects would be modest, or could possibly get canceled out by other foods. Weight loss supplement companies though love to exaggerate the results from studies like this to get people to buy their worthless pills. They want customers to think “I can eat whatever I want so long as I eat it with ginger!”. After all, scientific studies “prove” that it works!

Nothing, and I mean nothing can replace limiting calories and getting adequate exercise. There are plenty of other herbs and spices that can help improve feelings of satiety or suppress appetite, though practically none can help shed all excess weight over the long term in a safe manner.

So while ginger may help relieve mild arthritis pain, don’t rely on it for weight loss.

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Chris Pert interviewed on Outside Health and Fitness Podcast!

If you can’t get enough of joggling, and can tolerate some awful jokes, check out the Chris Pert aka the “Wild Juggler” interview on the Outside Health and Fitness Podcast, hosted by Steve Stearns: Wild Juggling with Chris Pert

I’ve never done something like this before, and it was kind of fun. The interview is largely about the Yonkers marathon which I’ve been told I ran(while juggling) a few weeks ago, and the basics of joggling and its possible benefits. As I’m sure many of you know, I’m all about outdoor fitness, so be sure to visit Outside Health and Fitness before going on your next outdoor adventure. Not only does it have everything you need to know to get the most out of your outdoor fitness routine, it also contains a lot of helpful health advice.

I hope you all enjoy the interview and the site!

Are push-ups on unstable surfaces more beneficial?

Push-ups are one of the best strength training exercises. You can do them almost anywhere and they require no special equipment. While they target the chest(pectoral) muscles, they also exercise the shoulder(deltoid), arm, and ab muscles.

There are many variants of the push-up. In particular, a recent trend is doing push-ups on unstable surfaces using BOSU balls or T-Bows. According to the companies that sell these products and some of their devoted users, this improves the push-up so that it is more beneficial. But is there any validity to this?

Fortunately for us, a study posted in the International Journal of Sports Therapy, Comparison of the effects of an eight-week push-up program using stable versus unstable surfaces found that:

CONCLUSIONS:

The addition of unstable surfaces in push-up training does not provide greater improvement in muscular strength and endurance than push up training performed on a stable surface in young men.

In other words, don’t waste your money on this fancy equipment. The unstable surface provided no extra benefit.

What keeps me motivated

IMG_1715

Joggling across Croton Reservoir on the Putnam(North County) trailway in Westchester county, NY

Staying motivated to exercise every day can be a challenge for some people. But with the right amount of motivation, it becomes much easier. This is why I believe it is a good idea to write a list of reasons to exercise, that way you don’t lose sight of why you do it. While some of the reasons I exercise are pretty standard, there are some motivations that are unique to me as a vegan joggler. Here is what keeps me motivated:

  • The health benefits of exercise, and this includes both cardiovascular and mental benefits
  • Joggling is fun
  • When I joggle, I often wear a vegan or vegetarian T-shirt. In this way I can help dispel the myths that many people still believe about veganism. This is probably one of the best ways to open up people’s minds to the vegan lifestyle. I can’t “convert” anyone, but by setting an example as a vegan joggler, I can suggest the idea to them
  • For the kids: A lot of kids love seeing me joggle around the neighborhood, so the fact that I am a source of entertainment and inspiration for a lot of children also helps me stay focused on my fitness routine. Who knows, maybe one of them will take up joggling some day and set some new world records!
  • To ensure I am as fit as possible for running competitions or for hiking adventures

I think we should all try to make our fitness routine as fun as possible, and set a good example to inspire others. Doing competitions or fitness events, joining a running club, or running for charity are other good ways to keep you motivated. You don’t have to be a joggler to do these things, but it will certainly bring you more attention. If you can find a way to entertain children while running or exercising, that’s yet another reason to exercise, and you will even forget you are exercising.

What keeps you motivated to exercise?

The effect of marathon running on memory

We often hear that among its myriad benefits, exercise is good for the brain. Running is considered particularly good for maintaining brain health. But in the short-term, how does marathon running effect the memory of runners immediately after the marathon?

According to Columbia University in New York, in Effects of the stress of marathon running on implicit and explicit memory:

We tested the idea that real-world situations, such as the highly strenuous exercise involved in marathon running, that impose extreme physical demands on an individual may result in neurohormonal changes that alter the functioning of memory. Marathon runners were given implicit and explicit memory tasks before or immediately after they completed a marathon. Runners tested immediately upon completing the marathon showed impairment in the explicit memory task but enhancement in the implicit memory task. This postmarathon impairment in explicit memory is similar to that seen with amnesic patients with organic brain damage. However, no previous studies have shown a simultaneous enhancement in the implicit memory task, as shown by the marathon runners in the present study. This study indicates that human memory functioning can be dynamically altered by such activities as marathon running, in which hundreds of thousands of healthy normal individuals routinely partake.

If you are wondering what implict memory and explicit memory are, read this: Implicit and Explicit Memory.

In a way, the results of this study are really not all that surprising, but it is still interesting to investigate exactly what happens to runners just after they cross the finish line. I remember during the last few miles of a 25 mile run being on the verge of delirium. Running a marathon is exhausting physically and mentally, so it should come as no surprise that the brains of people who just crossed the finish line are not as sharp as before the marathon, at least when it comes to memory. This doesn’t mean running marathons is bad for the brain though, since this is almost certainly a short-term effect, probably due to low blood sugar levels.

It is the long-term effects of exercise that are important, not just the short-term.

Overall, running is good for the brain – 5 Ways Running Boosts Brain Power

My marathon training

Here is what my marathon training consists of:

  • 1 long run per week of 15 to 20 miles
  • 2 moderately long runs of 10 to 12 miles
  • Short runs of 3.8 to 6 miles alternating with the longer run days

I aim to run a minimum of 30 miles per week.

I tend to run 4 to 5 days in a row, and then take a rest day which means I will just walk a little and do a lot of juggling as cross training. I alternate between long run days and short run days usually, to help rest my legs.

I do strength training for both my upper body and lower body, with much greater emphasis on my legs. I don’t want my upper body to become bulky so I keep it to a minimum, otherwise it slows me down as a runner. About once a week I do a complete upper body workout which consists of:

  • 2 sets of arm curls with resistance bands(usually 10 to 12 repetitions)
  • 2 sets of shoulder lifts with resistance bands(usually 7 to 9 repetitions)
  • 1 set of push-ups(I usually do between 30 to 34)
  • Juggle 3 very heavy balls(2.25 lbs) for several minutes until I can’t do it anymore

I tend to do this workout after runs(later in the day, not immediately after) since I want my body to build endurance for long runs rather than emphasize upper body muscle growth. Doing this before would emphasize muscle growth and may compromise my endurance level. I do an abbreviated version of this workout a few days after this which consists of just push-ups and heavy ball juggling. This workout allows me to juggle for hours on end. Here is some of my equipment – Iron Juggling.

My lower body/legs strength training regimen is even more important. I do this 2 to 3 times a week(rarely on the same day as upper body strength training). I tend to do this before I go out for a run(and refueling first if doing the run right after), and only on days when I do short runs. This helps build muscle for endurance runs, and to help rebuild muscle the days after very long runs.

This consists of:

  • 4 sets of leg lifts with ankle weights, I usually do about 20 lifts
  • 3 sets of this type of standing hip exercise using resistance bands(very important for hills). I do about 10 to 15 usually.
  • 1 set of bicycle crunches to build ab strength
  • 3 sets of jumping squats to build explosiveness and leg strength

On some days I will run on mostly hilly terrain during my long runs to train for the notoriously hilly Yonkers Marathon. Some good research indicates that the body can either build cardio endurance or strength for the day, but not both. They are in conflict, but not as bad as some people may think it is. So endurance runners should strength train their upper body after runs, not before. It’s fine to do leg strength training first though to build leg muscle, at least that is how my body works.

I do no stretching, except for the occasional back stretch on an exercise ball. I’ve seen no convincing studies indicating that stretching is beneficial.

If you have any questions or suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

Does climbing to extremely high altitudes lead to brain damage?

800px-Mount_everest

Mount Everest. Photo by Rupert Taylor-Price from Flickr.

I admire mountain climbers, especially those who look up at the highest peaks in the world and say: “I am going there”. I admire crazy people who can push themselves to the limits of human potential, making history, and inspiring others to push themselves to their limits.

That said, doing extraordinary things very often comes with extraordinary risks. Besides the risk of falling, the higher up you go, the thinner the atmosphere and the less oxygen there is. Just about everyone who climbs to the top of Mount Everest and other very high peaks suffers from hypoxia or low oxygen conditions, unless they bring an oxygen tank with them. Lack of oxygen can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and headache among other things that can severely compromise even an experienced climbers abilities.

But does this lead to permanent brain damage? When it comes to climbers of Mount Everest, according to Clinica Quirón de Zaragoza, Spain in Evidence of brain damage after high-altitude climbing by means of magnetic resonance imaging:

RESULTS:

Only 1 in 13 of the Everest climbers had a normal MRI; the amateur showed frontal subcortical lesions, and the remainder had cortical atrophy and enlargement of Virchow-Robin spaces but no lesions. Among the remaining amateurs, 13 showed symptoms of high-altitude illness, 5 had subcortical irreversible lesions, and 10 had innumerable widened Virchow-Robin spaces. Conversely, we did not see any lesion in the control group. We found no significant differences in the metabolite ratios between climbers and controls.

CONCLUSIONS:

We conclude that there is enough evidence of brain damage after high altitude climbing; the amateur climbers seem to be at higher risk of suffering brain damage than professional climbers.

I’ve never seriously entertained the idea of climbing Everest(29,029 ft or 8,848 m, or), but if I ever do I will keep this in mind, and will definitely bring an oxygen tank if I decide to do it(no I won’t joggle to the top). It looks like the brain damage may be permanent.

Everest’s 29,029 ft may seem like an incredible, very intimidating height to most of us, but this is because of our every day experiences of heights and distances. From another perspective, 29,029 ft is only about 0.14% of the distance from seal level to the center of the Earth.

Maybe I could joggle to the top after all?

Do ice or cold water baths speed recovery?

Like a lot of runners, after long runs I love to take cold showers or take an ice bath. It feels so soothing, I have long thought it must be doing something to help my legs recover from very long runs. But what does the science have to say about this?

According to Sports Physicians ACT, Deakin, Australia, in Ice-water immersion and delayed-onset muscle soreness: a randomised controlled trial:

The protocol of ice-water immersion used in this study was ineffectual in minimising markers of DOMS(delated onset muscle soreness) in untrained individuals. This study challenges the wide use of this intervention as a recovery strategy by athletes.

I will still take cold shower and use ice after long runs, even if the science doesn’t indicate it promotes recovery. It still feels good and it does help lower my body temperature a bit. Note that this study did not look into using ice to help treat acute injuries, which is completely different. Continue to use ice for certain injuries when indicated.

Taurine’s effect on running performance

Red Bull is a popular energy drink that many athletes and even some non-athletes use as a quick pick-me-up. I never use it myself, but I have little doubt that it works since it has a lot of caffeine, as well as sugar. Besides this it also has B vitamins, and taurine.

The effect of the caffeine in Red Bull is nothing to be skeptical about, but I have been skeptical about the effects of taurine, an organic acid: Is Red Bull’s taurine content also responsible for the stimulating effect it provides?

According to the University of Stirling, Scotland, UK, in The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners:

Abstract

Limited research examining the effect of taurine (TA) ingestion on human exercise performance exists. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of acute ingestion of 1,000 mg of TA on maximal 3-km time trial (3KTT) performance in trained middle-distance runners (MDR). Eight male MDR (mean ± SD: age 19.9 ± 1.2 years, body mass 69.4 ± 6.6 kg, height 180.5 ± 7.5 cm, 800 m personal best time 121.0 ± 5.3 s) completed TA and placebo (PL) trials 1 week apart in a double-blind, randomised, crossover designed study. Participants consumed TA or PL in capsule form on arrival at the laboratory followed by a 2-h ingestion period. At the end of the ingestion period, participants commenced a maximal simulated 3KTT on a treadmill. Capillary blood lactate was measured pre- and post-3KTT. Expired gas, heart rate (HR), ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and split times were measured at 500-m intervals during the 3KTT. Ingestion of TA significantly improved 3KTT performance (TA 646.6 ± 52.8 s and PL 658.5 ± 58.2 s) (p = 0.013) equating to a 1.7 % improvement (range 0.34-4.24 %). Relative oxygen uptake, HR, RPE and blood lactate did not differ between conditions (p = 0.803, 0.364, 0.760 and 0.302, respectively). Magnitude-based inference results assessing the likeliness of a beneficial influence of TA were 99.3 %. However, the mechanism responsible for this improved performance is unclear. TA’s potential influence on exercise metabolism may involve interaction with the muscle membrane, the coordination or the force production capability of involved muscles. Further research employing more invasive techniques may elucidate TA’s role in improving maximal endurance performance.

This is all so preliminary, but can a “1.7 % improvement” really be called significant? I’m no expert on this subject or when it comes to statistics, but this doesn’t seem big enough to me to justify its use. We need to see what similar studies say on this matter.

I managed to find a study about taurine supplementation in cyclists done by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, which found that:

This study examined whether acute taurine (T) ingestion before prolonged cycling would improve time-trial (TT) performance and alter whole-body fuel utilization compared with a control (CON) trial and a placebo (PL) trial in which participants were told they received taurine but did not. Eleven endurance-trained male cyclists (27.2 ± 1.5 yr, 74.3 ± 2.3 kg, 59.9 ± 2.3 ml · kg⁻¹ · min⁻¹; M ± SEM) completed 3 trials in a randomized, crossover, blinded design in which they consumed a noncaloric sweetened beverage with either 1.66 g of T or nothing added (CON, PL) 1 hr before exercise. Participants then cycled at 66.5% ± 1.9% VO(2max) for 90 min followed immediately by a TT (doing 5 kJ of work/kg body mass as fast as possible). Data on fluid administration, expired gas, heart rate, and ratings of perceived exertion were collected at 15-min intervals during the 90-min cycling ride, but there were no differences recorded between trials. There was no difference in TT performance between any of the 3 trials (1,500 ± 87 s). Average carbohydrate (T 2.73 ± 0.21, CON 2.88 ± 0.19, PL 2.89 ± 0.20 g/min) and fat (T 0.45 ± 0.05, CON 0.39 ± 0.04, PL 0.39 ± 0.05 g/min) oxidation rates were unaffected by T supplementation. T ingestion resulted in a 16% increase (5 g, ~84 kJ; p < .05) in total fat oxidation over the 90-min exercise period compared with CON and PL. The acute ingestion of 1.66 g of T before exercise did not enhance TT performance but did result in a small but significant increase in fat oxidation during submaximal cycling in endurance-trained cyclists.

Taurine supplementation did not improve performance but did improve fat oxidation by a small amount. I realize the first study was done on runners and the second study on cyclists, but the exercises are both cardio and similar enough for comparison purposes.

So it looks like it is the caffeine and sugars that are exclusively responsible for Red Bull’s effects. The jury is still out on the taurine(B vitamins are also in Red Bull, but that is beyond the scope of this post).

Running versus weight-lifting: Which is better for improving mood?

Many runners experience the phenomenon called “runner’s high”, which is caused by a surge of endorphins in the brain, the body’s “feel good” chemicals.

Some weight-lifters may experience something similar, but is it as strong as runner’s high? Does it improve mood to the same degree as running?

According to researchers at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, in the study, Effects of running and other activities on moods:

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to compare the moods and mood variations of runners to those of aerobic dancers, weight-lifters, and nonexercising controls. The subjects, 70 undergraduates, were participants in a jogging and conditioning, a weight training, an aerobic dance, or an introductory psychology class. A time-series design was used in which all participants completed eight Profile of Mood State questionnaires over a 6-hr. period that centered on the time of the class. Four questionnaires were completed during the second week of classes and the other four about midsemester, approximately 6 wk. later. Runners had a significantly more positive mood profile than nonexercisers and a somewhat more positive one than weight-lifters, but those of runners and aerobic dancers were similar. Changes in moods across time in relation to activity and across semester suggest that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, helps the regular participant not only to cope with stress but also to have a generally more positive feeling of well-being.

Interestingly, the aerobic dancers were similar to runners in terms of mood. I gotta admit that I usually find strength-training dull compared to running, and so this study didn’t surprise me. The results of this study imply cardio in general is probably better at improving mood than strength-training. My own experience confirms this.