Tag Archives: hiking

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.


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.


An autumn hike and some sassafras tea


On one of my days of rest from running last week, I went for a little hike in a wooded area near me, enjoying that early autumn coolness. The leaves are still stubbornly holding on to their greenness, but they will eventually change into all sorts of brilliant colors within a few weeks as the temperatures fall and the days get shorter.

As much as I enjoy the fresh air and greenery of a hike, I also venture out into the wilderness to see what Mother Nature has to offer me. As I often like to say, if you can identify edible wild plants, a hike in the woods can be like a visit to the supermarket.


Sassafras growing on the edge of the woods

Unfortunately, my favorite wild mustard greens are all dead; so are most other wild greens. Fortunately, sassafras grows plentifully in this area, and I’m in the mood for some spicy tea. Sassafras is usually a small to medium sized tree, and saplings are common in this area. Believe it or not, during the colonial era, sassafras was one of America’s biggest exports to Europe.

Sassafras is easy to identify, due to how it produces 3 different types of leaves: one with 3 lobes, one with 1 lobe so it looks like a mitten, and one that is oval shaped. Very few plants in the north-eastern U.S are like this. If you can’t identify it by sight, you can try cutting off a little section of leaf or twig and smelling it. It will smell sweetly aromatic, sort of like cinnamon to me.

Sassafras root

Sassafras root

Although you can make tea from any part of the sassafras plant, the roots pack the most punch.

Luckily the soil was kind of loose so it was easy for me to dig up some sassafras root with my hand.


Sassafras tea

I brought it home, cut it up and then put in some water to boil then simmer it for 20 minutes. I then poured the sassafras water through a strainer into a tea cup. It tasted amazing, it’s very soothing, tasting sort of like cinnamon or even ginger at times.

It’s a pleasant tasting tea, but I don’t know if it has any medicinal effects, beyond some mild anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Sassafras for the longest time was one of the main ingredients in root beer, but I will explain below why this is no longer the case.

The potential carcinogenicity of sassafras

Sassafras contains safrole, which according to animal research is a carcinogen. I think everyone should be made aware of this, even if the evidence for harm in humans isn’t especially strong. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Sassafras is Safer Without Safrole:

Research: In the 1950s and ’60s, researchers showed that high doses of safrole caused liver damage and liver and lung cancer in mice and rats that were fed the compound for long periods of time. Nursing mice developed tumors when their mothers were given safrole. Because human studies are lacking, researchers don’t know what dose might cause cancer in adults or children. (Safrole occurs naturally in many spices, like nutmeg, but in amounts tiny enough to be considered harmless.) Although lab experiments show that safrole has antifungal and antibacterial properties, no clinical research has provided evidence for its — or sassafras’ — supposed health benefits.

Based on other things I’ve read, root beer makers can still use sassafras so long as the safrole is removed. Since I drink sassafras tea about once every 4 years, and in small amounts, I don’t think I have a whole lot to worry about. This post isn’t necessarily a recommendation to drink sassafras tea; you can still enjoy the fragrance on hikes or even use it as an air freshener, but there are a million other herbal teas you can safely drink that may even have some medicinal effects.

This site has some interesting information on sassafras, suggesting the cancer risk is overblown – Safrole is not nearly as dangerous as you would think

If anyone reading this is a chemist, I would love to know what you think about the cancer-causing potential of sassafras. How dangerous is it?

Stick to outdoor exercise to stay in shape


As much as I love staying in shape, I have little use for gyms. In fact, I have never been a member of a gym. I am even trying to think of the last time I set foot in one with a friend or relative who was a member. I can’t remember.

While gyms can be useful for some people, especially if you need a lot of help and encouragement from a qualified fitness trainer, or like to accurately keep track of how you’re doing with machines, my idea of fitness has always been about outdoor adventure. Very long hikes, running through the woods, climbing steep hills or trees is my idea of fitness. I just don’t think I would be as fit if I were to use treadmills or most other fitness machines.

Without the fresh air, the sun, the elements, the mud, the animals, the unexpected, it just doesn’t feel right to me. Hence, the “wild” in “Wild Juggler”. One of the main purposes of this site is to encourage people to get fit by going into the wild. I hope my blog has been a valuable resource in this regard. Another excellent resource on outdoor fitness is the Outsidehealthandfitness site, run by Steve Stearns. When it comes to outdoor fitness, he does it all!

Whether it is hiking, cycling, skiing, or trail running, his site has some great advice for newbies and seasoned outdoor athletes. His approach to fitness is so similar to my own, though it doesn’t emphasize juggling(it doesn’t exclude it either). I highly recommend his site. He often does product reviews and has an interesting podcast.

It may not just be me, or Steve Stearns, who think outdoor exercise is better; science itself has shown some preliminary support for this idea. According to PenCLAHRC, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter, in the study Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review:

This review has shown some promising effects on self-reported mental wellbeing immediately following exercise in nature which are not seen following the same exercise indoors.

This is so not surprising to me. So when in doubt, get out! You don’t need a gym membership to stay in shape. And if you don’t have a park or woods near you, go out anyway, practice Parkour if you can.

If you are in the northern northern hemisphere, the weather is no longer an excuse(not that it ever was a good excuse).

Burden Forest Preserve

IMG_0258The Burden Preserve in Westchester county, New York. Not a great place to joggle, because of how swampy it is, but it’s great for a day hike if you have the right kind of boots.


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.



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.