Sugar is bad, who knew?

High glycemic load carbohydrates (ie, sugar and refined grains) in a diet lead to higher levels on inflammation. A new study done in Seattle fed two groups of adults identical quantities of carbohydrates with one group receiving high-glycemic-load carbohydrates (such as sugar and refined grains) while the other got low-glycemic-load carbohydrates (such as whole grains, legumes and other high-fiber foods).

Glycemic load measures quickly a given amount of carbohydrates causes a rise in blood sugar (and thus in insulin levels).

Among overweight and obese adults, a diet rich in slowly digested carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes and other high-fiber foods, significantly reduces markers of inflammation associated with chronic disease, according to a new study by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Such a “low-glycemic-load” diet, which does not cause blood-glucose levels to spike, also increases a hormone that helps regulate the metabolism of fat and sugar. …

The controlled, randomized feeding study, which involved 80 healthy Seattle-area men and women – half of normal weight and half overweight or obese – found that among overweight and obese study participants, a low-glycemic-load diet reduced a biomarker of inflammation called C-reactive protein by about 22 percent.

“This finding is important and clinically useful since C-reactive protein is associated with an increased risk for many cancers as well as cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Marian Neuhouser, Ph.D., R.D., a member of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center. “Lowering inflammatory factors is important for reducing a broad range of health risks. Showing that a low-glycemic-load diet can improve health is important for the millions of Americans who are overweight or obese.”

Neuhouser and colleagues also found that among overweight and obese study participants, a low-glycemic-load diet modestly increased – by about 5 percent – blood levels of a protein hormone called adiponectin. This hormone plays a key role in protecting against several cancers, including breast cancer, as well as metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hardening of the arteries.

How old are you? Not too old to run!

Researchers in Germany found “no relevant differences in the [marathon] finishing times of people between the ages of 20 and 50″.

2009 Berlin marathon

The start of the 2009 Berlin Marathon. Paula Radcliffe, 37, and Haile Gebrselassie, 38, are among the favorites to win the marathon this year, despite being considered over the hill.

In this weekend’s Berlin Marathon, the men’s and women’s world record holders will both be going out on the comeback track. Paula Radcliffe (37) and Haile Gebrselassie (38) are each returning to competition after some time off and both are among the favorites to win this race.

The New York Times noted that:

A few years ago researchers at the German Sports University Cologne took a close look at the finishing times of 400,000 marathon and half-marathon runners between the ages of 20 and 79. They found no relevant differences in the finishing times of people between the ages of 20 and 50. The times for runners between 50 and 69 slowed only by 2.6 to 4.4 percent per decade. “Older athletes are able to maintain a high degree of physiological plasticity late into life,” the researchers wrote.

So, enough of deciding to be lazy today. There’s a world out there to conquer. You might not be competing as an elite runner in one of the World Marathon Majors races, but you can certainly be part of the movement noted by Running USA which found that “[i]n 1980, the median age for a marathon runner was 34 for men and 31 for women. By last year, the age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women. People over 40 now comprise 46 percent of finishers, up from 26 percent in 1980. ”

What can’t exercise do?

“Exercise Increases Mitochondria In Brain Cells”

Researchers have long known that regular exercise increases the number of organelles called mitochondria in muscle cells. Since mitochondria are responsible for generating energy, this numerical boost is thought to underlie many of the positive physical effects of exercise, such as increased strength or endurance. Exercise also has a number of positive mental effects, such as relieving depression and improving memory. However, the mechanism behind these mental effects has been unclear. In a new study in mice, researchers at the University of South Carolina have discovered that regular exercise also increases mitochondrial numbers in brain cells, a potential cause for exercise’s beneficial mental effects.

Training for life

Last weekend I was catching up with an old friend and she asked what I was training for. The question stopped me because I don’t have any races on my schedule–the last event I did was the Tough Mudder race/obstacle course back in May. I’m not planning for a long trip, like my Rocky Mountain bike ride last summer with my brother. There is no particular end point or goal that I’m working toward right now.

Tough Mudder Vermont -- May 2011

Tough Mudder Vermont. This water was frozen. The rest of the water was 35 degrees and wet!

None the less I have been working hard doing some sort of training every day. Although, three days a week are rest days, where I’m working on skills like swimming or active recovery like stretching. The other four I’m going all out with a max effort in each.

It occurred to me that I’m training for life.

I like this notion. I like that these three words–training for life–can convey so many different meanings and can be read in several different ways. I’m training so that I’m prepared to do anything I’m called upon to do in life. Training in order that I can live. It’s the training that allows me to live. Having trained, I’m strong enough to live through anything.

It’s fun to parse these multiple meanings.

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After four years of doing CrossFit as often as six days per week, I’d taken the past year largely off and substituted much more running, biking and triathlons in as my workout.

I shifted gears again this summer and for the last three months have been working exclusively on strength. I’ve put together my own program that combines two different schemes with an emphasis on lifting high weights for a low number of repetitions (specifically, I’m using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 programming cycles together with the lifts in Justin Lascek’s Strength & Conditioning Program). Unlike CrossFit programming which includes some sort of metabolic conditioning workout in each session, I’m only doing two short metabolic conditioning workouts per week. And again using heavy weights for short durations.

It’s been working. Over the last three months I’ve increased my one rep max lifts back up to the levels they were at when I was training CrossFit consistently.

==

And so it goes. Eventually it will be time to shift gears again. There’s nothing better for you than surprising your body with new challenges. For now, I’m enjoying the gains in strength and looking forward to how that will reflect once I shift back to a more standard CrossFit format.

What can’t exercise do?

Exercise Tells Stem Cells To Become Bone, Not Fat

Well of course. If you use your body, your body figures out how to improve itself.

Resting … and swimming

I’ve been swimming a lot this summer … on my rest days.

Terry and Shinji Swim in Synch

Terry and Shinji Swim in Synch

My touchstone for restful swimming has been this video of Terry McLaughlin (TI Founder) and Shinji Takeuchi (TI President) as they swim individually and then in synch. They move like skiers down a mountain, sliding easily. No clutching, no thrashing and no wasted effort. Just relaxed, clean and fluid motion through the water.

I friend of mine wanted to work on his swimming this summer, so I introduced him to the Total Immersion program developed by Terry McLaughlin. I’d transformed my swimming several years ago by getting the TI book and dvd (and signing up for a weekend workshop). I spent weeks swimming only drills, and at the end came out with a transformed ability to move through the water. I went from being able to swim well enough not to drown, to the point where folks at the local pool began to compliment me on my stroke.

I decided it was also time to send myself “back to school” for a refresher course.

One of the great elements of TI is Terry’s concept of kaizen swimming. Kaizen is the Japanese term for “continuous improvement” and it originated in manufacturing operations. Terry has borrowed this notion and applied it to his philosophy of swimming which emphasizes eliminating resistance and increasing efficiency.

Back to my rest days. I’ve been swimming very slowly, paying minute attention to all the details of my movement. And it’s been amazing … as I’ve looked with a quiet mind at what I’m doing (and what I’m not doing), I’ve come to realize that there’s an entire world of improvement open to me.

Late nights with the Tour de France

Cadel Evans in the Peloton

The Atlantic Magazine: Tour de France 2011 - Part 1

I’ve spent the evenings of the last three weeks watching the late night rebroadcast of the Tour de France on Versus. It’s been an epic struggle with lessons in persistence, perseverance and bravery.

Midway through it seemed like each day contained a major crash, with cyclists colliding or flying off the course. And bones breaking. Broken collar bone, broken wrist, broken pelvis, and on. A reminder of how cycling is a crazily dangerous sport.

The most spectacular crash came when a media car swerved to avoid a tree hanging over the road. The car missed the tree but took out two cyclists, Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland, sending Hoogerland onto a barbed wire fence.

Despite gashes that eventually required 33 stitches to close, he hopped back on his bike to finish the stage and win the King of the Mountains jersey that day.

From the gruesome to the gritty: French cyclist Thomas Voeckler held onto the leader’s yellow jersey for 10 days of the 21 day race, only to give it up to Andy Schleck who lead two days of vicious attacks up the Col du Galibier and l’Alpe d’Huez. A stunning 60 km breakaway by Andy Schleck gave him a 2 minute lead on the Col de Galibier.

Peleton - Tour de France 2011

The Atlantic Magazine: Tour de France 2011 - Part 2

Not to be outdone, Cadel Evans gritted back about half that time with a shrewd ride on l’Alpe d’Huez. On the final racing stage of the Tour, a time trial in Grenbole, Cadel Evans put his head down and poured his heart out to gain a minute-and-a-half lead over Andy Schleck to win the Tour de France.

It was great to see two time runner up Evans ride smart and ride hard to take the yellow jersey on the last racing stage and become the first ever Aussie winner of the Tour de France.

Fat is good; Carbs are bad … Could it be?

Despite what we’ve been told for years, this hypothesis is getting strange new respect from growing numbers of scientists.

Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

It’s a confusing message. For years we’ve been fed the line that eating fat would make us fat and lead to chronic illnesses. “Dietary fat used to be public enemy No. 1,” says Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. “Now a growing and convincing body of science is pointing the finger at carbs, especially those containing refined flour and sugar.”

And if you’re ready for a few statistics, here’s a great look at the correlation between wheat flour and heart disease.

If you’re new to these ideas, Gary Taubes, who wrote the masterful synthesis Good Calories, Bad Calories, has a new book coming out that simplifies and focuses on the question of Why We Get Fat.

Does exercise teach your body to stay young?

It certainly looks that way. Researchers in Tel Aviv studied rats who exercised daily for three months and found that “younger rats showed a 20% to 35% increase in the average number of stem cells per muscle fiber retained — and older rats benefited even more significantly, exhibiting a 33% to 47% increase in stem cells.

The greater prevalence of stem cells among those who exercise enhances the ability to rejuvenate tissue and avoid two of the major symptoms of aging: sarcopenia, a decline in mass and function of muscles, and osteopenia or bone loss.

Get out, get dirty and keep your immune system working

Several avenues of research point to the importance of continually challenging your immune system to keep it strong. This latest study looks at the role a healthy immune system plays in avoiding depression.