Tag Archives: dancing

The New Dietary Guidelines and Running versus Joggling

It seems almost everyone I know is talking about the new dietary guidelines. In large part, this is because they significantly depart from the old recommendations, such as eating a low-fat diet to reduce heart disease risk. This is no longer recommended, since science has found that the type of fat is more important than total fat. They still recommend reducing saturated fat, and reducing meat and animal food consumption to help achieve this. They also recommend reducing animal food consumption for environmental reasons.

Ultimately, what do the new recommendations mean for vegans? Ginny Messina RD has written an excellent post on the new dietary recommendations, The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, What Will They Mean for Vegans?, and I suggest you read it. Her most important point, which I am in full agreement with:

It doesn’t really impact my own advocacy for animals, though. I know very well that findings on nutrition and health are always changing. I know that nutrition research is far more conflicting than concurring. And I don’t see much point to building advocacy around facts that may change tomorrow.

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On the subject of joggling, Alex Hutchinson has written an interesting article titled Brain Plasticity in Endurance vs Skill Sports in Runner’s World. Actually, the article doesn’t mention anything about joggling or juggling, but the study he cites implies some extra benefits for joggling over running. I’ve always wanted to know if skill sports were better for brain plasticity than endurance sports, and it seems this article tentatively suggests they are. Of course, any aerobic exercise is good for the brain, but it appears that dancing, or figure skating(or any exercise that involves more complex “gross motor skills”) may provide some extra benefits over running. The same could probably be said about joggling, though I must admit that I am very biased. I also suspect that trail running may be slightly more beneficial for brain plasticity than road running.

So when it comes to exercise, go beyond just trying to improve your endurance or speed, try challenging your coordination and balance in novel ways. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn new tasks, and the better it is for your brain.

Update: Alex Hutchinson wrote an even more interesting follow-up article to the article posted above a few weeks later titled Fighting Cognitive Decline with Dodgeball and Juggling. In this follow-up, he actually does mention juggling as an example of an exercise that involves “gross motor skills” that may provide additional brain benefits over endurance exercise, but not joggling. He wrote this follow-up after he got an email from Nicholas Berryman(a physiologist at the Quebec National Institute of Sport) in response to the first article, who cited 3 scientific papers.

While the cognitive benefits of cardio, and strength training to a lesser extent are already established, and their mechanisms largely understood(increased blood-flow to the brain and increased nerve growth factors when it comes to cardio) according to Hutchinson:

What Berryman pointed out is preliminary evidence for a third mechanism, triggered by gross motor training – things like balance and coordination training, or even learning skills like juggling.

While this is all very fascinating, it is already known that learning just about any skill causes changes in the brain. Learning certain skills, like learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument, is associated with preventing or slowing cognitive decline in many studies. This leads to the question: Does juggling benefit the brain in ways that cardio alone can’t? Besides this, does learning gross motor skills that involve improvements in coordination and balance(juggling, or rock-climbing), benefit the brain more than learning to play an instrument, or learning to play chess?

As Hutchinson points out, the preliminary evidence for additional benefits of gross motor skills is encouraging. However, in the mean time, we shouldn’t have to wait for definitive answers before taking dance or juggling lessons, or going on a rock climbing adventure, if only for the fun of it.

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Are you cognitively fit?

When we think of fitness, we usually think of speed, strength, flexibility, or coordination. We don’t normally think about cognitive or brain fitness. There seems to be a dualism at work when it comes to how we approach fitness, with the mind being thought of as separate from the rest of the body, and treated as such.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I believe brain training is just as important as strength-training, and cardio. Solving puzzles, playing chess, or playing a musical instrument are all great ways to keep your mind sharp, but the body is generally not very active while doing this. These are all great ways to improve your cognitive fitness, but a more efficient use of time would combine cardio with a brain workout.

This is where juggling comes in, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be juggling. Any physical activity that raises your heart rate and involves novel, precise body movement will suffice. Martial arts, dancing, and rock climbing all give your brain a boost while also providing cardio benefits. You could even use martial arts to take down some very powerful criminals, which would require a lot of thought as you plot how to sneak into their hideout, and dodge bullets from their henchmen and henchwomen, but alas, this only happens in the movies.

I think the benefits of these activities would be similar to juggling, if juggling isn’t for you. The good thing about juggling though is the very immediate feedback you get when you don’t do it right – you keep dropping balls.

What does it mean to be cognitively fit? According to – Goizueta Business School of Emory University, Department of Psychiatry, Atlanta, USA

Cognitive fitness will help you be more open to new ideas and alternative perspectives. It will give you the capacity to change your behavior and realize your goals. You can delay senescence for years and even enjoy a second career. Drawing from the rapidly expanding body of neuroscience research as well as from well-established research in psychology and other mental health fields, the authors have identified four steps you can take to become cognitively fit: understand how experience makes the brain grow, work hard at play, search for patterns, and seek novelty and innovation. Together these steps capture some of the key opportunities for maintaining an engaged, creative brain.

In other words, the brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it. Just as un-exercised muscle atrophies, so does the brain, making it less sharp, and increasing the risk for developing dementia. While almost any form of exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, this isn’t the same thing as giving your brain a workout.

A regular cognitive workout is a positive feedback loop: the more cognitively fit you are, the more likely you are to try new things, which in turn can improve your cognitive fitness even further, which allows you to try even more new things, etc.

So if you are bored with your current fitness routine, consider doing activities that also give your mind a workout. Cognitive fitness is just as important as body fitness.

Winter is officially here

Now that winter is officially here with all its challenges and positives, I keep thinking of the how different it was when I joggled during the summer and its own unique challenges.

I joggled many times around this lake during the summer. This photo was taken in the Rockefeller Preserve, Pocantico Hills, NY.

In a strange kind of way, I miss it, especially as the weather gets colder. It’s like I have forgotten the profuse sweating, the heat-induced muscle fatigue causing me to slow down or drop the balls, the countless insects biting me or flying into my face, and the sunscreen I had to rub over much of my body to prevent sunburn. Okay, maybe I haven’t forgotten, but I still achieved bliss on a good run. I remember joggling in the summer wishing it was the heaven that is winter.

And now sometimes I wish it was summer, or spring. How ironic. The middle of the winter means heavy clothing, shorter days, a running nose, the risk of frost-bite, kids throwing snow balls, and sometimes stiffer muscles. If there is snow or ice, winter joggling can be especially problematic – be not afraid of new challenges. And the local kids should know they can’t win in a snow ball fight with a joggler!

“When you long for a life without difficulties, remind yourself that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure” – Uknown

Although I have to adapt to the weather, all the rules for joggling are the same. For beginners, this is very important: Maintaining the proper rhythm and posture is everything. It is like music, making beautiful music, becoming one with the rhythm and one with the balls. You may hear the music, you may not. If a melody develops, literally run with it. Hum along if you want.

With all this emphasis on rhythm, and music perhaps it would be better for jogglers to forget about running and to think of themselves as dancers. Running simply takes you from point A to point B. But juggling adds a new magical dimension to the running; going from point A to point B^3.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of dancer-joggler you think of yourself as. If you prefer the grace of a ballerina, go with that. Or if you prefer hip-hop dance, go ahead. You don’t even necessarily have to do the 3 ball cascade pattern, although that is most efficient and easiest for beginners. Above all, be creative. You may surprise yourself and learn all sorts of new things about yourself through joggling. If it really does make us smarter, that isn’t such a surprise.

In the new year, whatever your fitness goals are, it helps to be as creative as possible, to think outside-the-box, to make it as fun as possible and to not care what anyone else thinks.

And for the record, I’ve decided to stop eating eggs, which makes me vegan yet again.

Juggling as cross-training

Cross-training is when exercisers alternate their fitness routine with something different yet complementary to their preferred, usual regimen. It aims to improve overall fitness by addressing whatever shortcomings their usual training has. A good example of this is a runner who occasionally cycles; running mainly uses the calf muscles while cycling mainly uses the quadriceps. By occasionally cycling, a runner can improve his ability to run up hills, since running up an incline relies more on the quadriceps. 

It all makes intuitive sense, although science hasn’t necessarily validated all the various forms of cross-training for athletes. Nevertheless, cross-training is encouraged by coaches and fitness experts to elite athletes and non-elite athletes alike. A runner who occasionally cycles will be more fit than a runner who exclusively runs.

It is my opinion that both juggling and joggling are neglected as cross-training for a variety of athletic activities. Off the top of your head, think of all the various sports that require good hand-eye coordination, and upper body endurance, which juggling is very good at improving. While juggling isn’t the only way to improve hand-eye coordination, it is one of the most convenient and is also a moderate aerobic workout in its own right. 

Consider boxers for example: They regularly run or use a jump-rope as cross-training to improve their overall aerobic fitness and endurance. However, neither of these helps optimize the critically important hand-eye coordination of the boxer, though jump-roping is slightly better than running in this regard. Jump-roping may be good for developing a good sense of rhythm and exercises the arms unlike running(even better if you can do a lot of tricks with the jump rope). It is still not as “good” as juggling.

Now imagine if instead of running or jump-roping a boxer joggled outside for a few miles or “joggled” in place at the gym with 3 balls. I believe this would be an improvement in their cross-training regimen, although I must admit I know very little about boxing. I believe it could improve their hand-eye coordination, unless they are doing something else as part of their training that has already optimized their hand-eye coordination.

If somehow the boxer could work his way up to juggling or joggling 5 balls, he may reap even more benefits. This is speculation on my part. Although I have never boxed, I did study martial arts for a few years which is similar. Juggling/joggling could also be used as cross-training for cycling, rock-climbing, tennis, martial arts, and so many other life-affirming activities. Even all by itself, it is fun and gives your brain a good workout.

For the record, I think joggling has improved my dancing ability, something which I had no ability to do before since I’ve always been a big klutz.