Tag Archives: rock-climbing

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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The high risk sports personality

Having looked at the personality traits that are common to runners in our last post, I thought it would be interesting to compare them with other types of athletes, in particular, those who are into high risk sports. In case you have forgotten, runners tend to be more introverted, and imaginative, among other things.

So what personality traits are common to those who participate in dangerous sports? According to Personality differences in high risk sports amateurs and instructors:

This study investigated the personality differences of 21 amateurs and 20 instructors who participated in the high risk sports of skydiving, hang-gliding, paragliding, scuba diving, microlighting, and rock climbing, versus those who did not. 38 men and 28 women (M age=32.6 yr., SD= 10.0) were assessed using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Revised, the General Health Questionnaire, the Generalised Self-efficacy Scale, and a Type A/B personality measure. Instructors and Amateurs scored significantly higher on Extroversion and lower on Neuroticism than Nonparticipants; however, they differed from each other on the General Health Questionnaire and Type A/B personality scores. Amateurs scored significantly higher on Psychoticism and Self-efficacy than Instructors and Nonparticipants. In conclusion, these test scores suggest that people who are attracted to high risk sports tend to be at the extroverted and emotionally stable end of the scale, with a tendency to exhibit Type A characteristics; however, Instructors’ scores on Psychoticism and Self-efficacy are more akin to those of Nonparticipants.

The tendency toward extroversion among participants in high risk sports makes them the opposite of introverted runners. They also seem to be more Type A, and if I am reading this correctly, amateurs in this sport have a tendency toward “psychoticism”? I can understand “crazy”, but “psychotic”? I wish they had elaborated on this.

Also, it’s strange how instructors in these dangerous sports have personalities more like non-participants. Is this the ultimate example of “what you don’t do, you teach?”.

I still can’t find anything definitive about joggling and personality.

Does climbing to extremely high altitudes lead to brain damage?

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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?

Stick to outdoor exercise to stay in shape

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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).

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.

Joggling as training for extreme sports

Base jumping. Source: Wikipedia

Base jumping. Source: Wikipedia

There aren’t very many jogglers out there. In the U.S, the number of jogglers appears to be in the hundreds. Most train just to be better jogglers or because they simply love joggling. There are also a few “swogglers”(juggling while swimming) out there, but they are even rarer.

A few jogglers, like Perry Romanowski, are ultra-jogglers, which is basically juggling while ultra-running. Perry has not only set many world joggling records, he also runs by far the best, most informative website about joggling at: Justyouraveragejoggler.com. Whether you are just a casual joggler or you want to train for marathons or ultra-marathons, his site has a lot of useful advice. I’ve learned a lot from him, and wish him well in his ultra-ultra marathon joggling and scientific exploits.

While joggling for joggling’s sake is why most of us do it(and I am not sure if ultra-marathon joggling counts as an “extreme sport”), can joggling also be used as training for extreme sports? Obviously, the best way to train for various extreme sports is to train at these sports, but a little cross-training can be valuable, especially with how joggling improves your hand/eye coordination. After all, why run, when you can joggle?

While there is no universally agreed upon definition of an “extreme sport”, certain sports like BASE jumping obviously qualify. A looser definition could easily include downhill skiing(especially extreme skiing), and rock-climbing. Hang gliding would also probably qualify. The main thing these all have in common are that they are inherently dangerous, especially BASE jumping.

Another thing they have in common is that they all require a very high level of coordination, coordination that can make the difference between life and death. Just think of the coordination a rock climber needs, and the split second decision making they need to make if something goes wrong, and how having excellent coordination can prevent them from falling to their death.

So can joggling help better prepare people who want to BASE jump, or rock climb, or be an extreme skiier? I honestly do not know, but I see little reason to believe it would hurt. I have no experience in any extreme sports except for a little climbing, so my opinion concerning this isn’t particularly well-informed.

One reason joggling may be a good cross-training activity for extreme sportsmen and sportswomen, is that it is much easier to find the time and place to joggle on a regular basis. But who can BASE jump every day? Or ski down an extreme mountain slope, or hang glide every day? Unless you are very lucky to live at a place that affords you the opportunity to do this, and you also have a lifestyle that allows you to do this every day, it can be difficult to practice these activities with regularity.

So if you are into extreme sports or want to get into them, why not give joggling a try first? Maybe you will be a lot better at your chosen extreme sport if you joggle every day, or maybe not. It’s difficult to know how much of your joggling ability can transfer to other activities requiring extreme coordination, but I am reasonably certain it is greater than nothing.