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Clarence Bass by Guy Appelman

   

FAQ 13 (Scroll for all articles)

 
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What's New in Physical Activity Guidelines?

A: The 2nd Edition of The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued on November 12, 2018, is more welcoming to efficient exercise. Not only does it recognize HIIT as an aerobic option, it conveys a more practical understanding of healthful physical activity. It gives the 80% of Americans who are sedentary more reasons to adopt the guidelines and get moving.

First and foremost they emphasize that regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do to improve our health and prevent chronic disease. The benefits begin with childhood and grow with age.

The new guidelines retain the earlier recommendations of 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of the two, with at least two days a week of muscle strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity involving all major muscle groups--all in order to stay healthy. Older adults are urged to include balance training.

They also make some uplifting changes.

A piece on the Cooper Institute website by Steve Farrell, PhD, FACSM, emphasized several upgrades.

Every minute counts. The 1st Edition stated that aerobic exercise had to be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes in order to count toward the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes per week. The most current evidence clearly shows that the total volume of physical activity is what’s important for health benefits. This is good news because it means that if you walk up a few flights of stairs in one minute, or take a three-minute walk at work, this now counts towards your 150-300 minutes per week. In other words, the 10-minute requirement no longer exists.

Reap immediate benefits. We now know that a single bout of moderate to vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, reduce anxiety, improve brain function, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin function on the day that the activity is performed. That means that taking a short walk can show immediate improvements in your mood, stress levels, blood pressure, and more.

Dangers of sitting. There is now a much stronger focus on reducing sedentary behaviors such as prolonged sitting. While there is no specific guideline in this regard, individuals are urged to break up sitting duration during the day. For example, you might choose to stand instead of sit during phone calls while at work and take short walking breaks throughout the day instead of sitting for long periods of time.     

You'll find more significant changes on The Cooper Institute site: https://www.cooperinstitute.org/2018/11/16/new-update-to-physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans-15845

See also: https://health.gov/paguidelines/ 

*  *  *

I've been asked if my current protocol of once-a-week high-intensity strength and aerobic workouts, along with Morning Motion and walking satisfy the requirements of the New Guidelines.

Indeed it does. I'm an example of what the Guidelines promise--what a lifetime of exercise can produce.

 

A lifetime of exercise can make you look and feel like this at 60.

Photo by Pat Berrett

February 1, 2019


Top Performance Supplements?

A: A 2018 review of "Evidence-Based Supplements" in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism led off the "Established" category with the two I use: caffeine and creatine. These and the other reviews are the most detailed and wide ranging I've seen. I'll summarize the top two and then provide the link to the rest of the supplements in the "established" category along with those listed as "equivocal" and "developing."

Coffee

Caffeine (coffee for the vast majority) has well-established benefits. It improves alertness and reduces perception of exertion during exercise. "There exists a lengthy research history on caffeine supplementation across a range of performance protocols, including endurance-based situations, resistance training exercise, short-term supramaximal [overload] efforts, and/or repeat-sprint tasks." In short, from treadmill running to exhaustion to resistance training to failure.

"Of note, larger caffeine doses do not appear to increase the benefits to performance. In fact, such doses are likely to increase the risk of negative side effects, such as nausea, anxiousness, insomnia, and restlessness." So more is rarely better.

"In summary, low to moderate doses of caffeine, consumed 60 minutes preexercise, appear to have the most consistent positive outcomes on sports performance in research situations."

So my double strength coffee 30 minutes to an hour before workouts is on target. My coffee is made with two-thirds whole milk, along with a tsp of canola oil and a Tiger's Milk bar to slow absorption and prolong the benefits. This combination puts me in the mood to train and helps keep me motivated. My workouts are usually an hour or less and I almost never have trouble staying motivated. More coffee before or during my workout is unlikely to help, and would likely be counterproductive.

Creatine

Creatine is another widely-researched supplement, with creatine monohydrate (CM) being the most commonly used form (found naturally in meat). No bells and whistles are needed. Moreover, big meat eaters are unlikely to benefit--like pumping gas into an overflowing tank.

Most benefits are seen in resistance and interval training, leading to greater gains in lean mass and muscular strength and power. Little or no gain is likely in endurance sports. (see exception below)

"Numerous reviews of CM supplementation identify performance benefits in single (+1-5%) and repeated bouts (+5-15%) of high-intensity exercise of less than 2.5 minutes, with the most pronounced effects being seen during tasks of less than 30s."

There is, however, some evidence of benefit in late stages of endurance events. "In fact, recent evidence has shown that a combination of creatine...and carbohydrate...loading may results in increased power output during repeated high-intensity sprint efforts during late stages of prolonged...cycling events." (My first experience of the performance benefits of creatine was at the end of a long climb up the eastern slope of the Sandia mountains; see my article linked below.)

The usual strategy is to begin with a "loading phase" calling for three or four doses a day for 5-7 days, followed by a smaller "maintenance phase" of a single daily dose.

Research suggests that creatine uptake is best when taken with sources of carbohydrate; see above. (I always take my creatine with meals.)

Importantly, no negative effects have been reported with use of CM for up to 4 years.

"In summary, when accepted CM supplementation protocols are followed, the expected increase in intramuscular creatine stores are likely to enhance lean mass, maximal power/strength, and the performance of single and repeated bouts of short-term, high-intensity exercise."

*  *  *

My impression is that the doses called for on labels are almost always excessive, especially for those of small stature like me. I currently take 1/2 level tsp before and after workouts--and nothing on rest days.

For many more details, see my article written soon after I began taking creatine: https://www.cbass.com/CREATINE.HTM

*  *  *

You can read the entire 2018 supplement review online: https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0343

February 1, 2019


Flexibility: Stretching vs. Strength Training?

A: When I started training more than 65 years ago athletes were told not to lift weights, that it would make you muscle bound. It wasn't true, of course. Olympic weightlifters were and are some of the most flexible athletics in the world. Athletes in practically all sports now train with weights. The question remains, however, whether athletes should lift and stretch. "There's an old notion that if you do resistance training, you have to stretch those muscles too," James Whitehead, EdD, a researcher at the University of North Dakota, told WebMD. "It's a hangover to the myth that muscles lose flexibility as they get bigger." 

Many athletes, perhaps most, combine stretching and resistance training. That may not be necessary if you lift through a full range of motion. New research calls into question the idea that stretching improves flexibility more than resistance training.

My experience is that a general warm-up, a form of dynamic stretching, is helpful. Helpful in preparing your muscles and joints to lift. Improving flexibility is another matter.

Testing at the Cooper Clinic some years ago graded my flexibility "very good" to "excellent."

I attribute this to decades of lifting weights through a full range of motion.

I've never done static stretching.

Photo by Justin Joseph

An event years ago forever changed the role of weight training in athletics.

The Karpovich Conversion

Weight Training in Athletics (Prentice-Hall, 1956) a book by Jim Murray, a former Managing Editor of Strength and Health magazine and Peter V. Karpovich, MD, Research Professor of Physiology at Springfield College (MA), marked the turning point. I read it as a teenager; it still has an honored place in our library. It exposed the muscle bound myth and turned the tide of weight training in athletics. 

When Dr. Karpovich was a boy, he heard a story that a professional wrestler and strongman could not reach between his shoulder blades to scratch and had to pay a penny to a little boy to do the scratching. When Karpovich became a physician, he was strongly opposed to weight lifting as a result. An event some years later presented him with the opportunity to test the story.

Bob Hoffman, the publisher of Strength and Health magazine, visited Springfield College to give a lecture and a demonstration of weight training. He brought with him two-time Mr. America John Grimek and John Davis, a world champion Olympic weightlifter. During the question and answer period, Karpovich politely asked Hoffman to ask Mr. Grimek to scratch his back between the shoulder blades. After a stunned silence, Hoffman asked why he wanted Grimek to scratch his back. Dr. Karpovich explained that he had been told that weight lifters are so muscle-bound that they can't scratch their backs.

Murray and Karpovich wrote in their book what followed: 

"Well, John," said Hoffman, addressing Grimek, "oblige the doctor and scratch your back." And Grimek did, first with one hand, and then the other. He scratched from above the shoulder and then from below. Davis did the same.  The audience roared with laughter at the expense of Dr. Karpovich. 

Just getting started, they proceeded to do a series of gymnastic moves, including splits, backbends, handstands, and elbow touches.
 

This photo of John Grimek displaying amazing flexibility is taken from the Murray-Karpovich book.

The book was widely used as a college textbook for many years. Murray acknowledged that its success with educators and coaches would've been unlikely without Dr. Karpovich, who from then on promoted weight training in athletics.

Study Finds Resistance Training as Good or Better than Static Stretching

Only recently has there been a challenge to the common practice of combining RT and SS.

Finding no research pitting strength training against stretching for improving range of motion, Dr. Whitehead and colleagues compared the two techniques on key muscles and joints in 25 college-age volunteers and reported their results in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research (December 2011).

Participants were randomly assigned to strength training or stretching programs focusing on hamstring muscles and hip, shoulder, and knee muscles and joints over five weeks. A control group of 12 other students did neither type of exercise.

The joint and muscle results are online. Here's the researcher's bottom line:

The results of this preliminary study suggest that carefully constructed full-range RT regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical SS regimens employed in conditioning programs. Because of the potential practical significance of these results to strength and conditioning programs, further studies using true experimental designs, larger sample sizes, and longer training durations should be conducted with the aim of confirming or disproving these results.

Time to rethink stretching routines? I'd say so.

Grimek and Davis are gone, but the impact of their demonstration at Springfield College lives on. It's time for coaches and athletes to revisit the need for static stretching in strength training regimens.

December 1, 2018


Lifestyle Factors Influencing Testosterone?

A: Integrative Sexual Health (Oxford University Press, April 2018) a new book in the Weil Integrative Medicine Library, offers interesting insights in this area. Integrative medicine takes into account the whole person and all aspects of lifestyle. The stated goal is to combine the best ideas and practices of conventional and alternative medicine. In keeping with this concept, the authors come from different fields: Barbara Bartlik, MD, is a board certified psychiatrist; Geovanni Espinosa, ND, a naturopathic doctor; and Janet Mindes, PhD, a research psychologist/neuroscientist. Series editor, Andrew Weil, MD, is a Professor and the Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Many others also contributed: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/integrative-sexual-health-9780190225889?cc=us&lang=en&#

The book may go a long way toward explaining why my testosterone level is in the upper range of normal (240-1035), while the average 80-year-old man will see his testosterone drop by 50 percent.

While the integrative approach to sexual health involves many factors that affect testosterone, the focus is on three.

Exercise

The authors don't pull any punches, pointing out that all forms of exercise are not equal. Endurance exercise such as running marathons actually lowers testosterone, while strength training involving the large muscles of the back and legs can increase testosterone. "Deadlifts and Squats are excellent for this purpose," Dr. Espinosa told CNN contributor Ian Kerner, a licensed couples therapist. My thought is that sprint intervals also help to increase or maintain testosterone level. This would include running, rowing, the Ski Erg and the Airdyne, and other short duration, high intensity forms of exercise involving the large muscles of the body.

Nutrition

Diets that promote fat accumulation lower testosterone, according to Dr. Ronald Hoffman, who wrote the chapter on diet and testosterone. Fat cells soak up testosterone and make it less available, he explained.

"For peak testosterone production, some carbs are necessary, but preferably the slowly metabolized kind from high-fiber fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes," Hoffman told CNN's Kerner. As I wrote in Ripped many years ago, a balanced diet of whole foods is the key to staying lean.

Sleep

Sleep is important for optimal levels of testosterone, most of which is produced after 5 hours of sleep, according the authors. This could explain the recent surge in my testosterone level. With the help of my Fitbit, I am now averaging more than eight hours of sleep. Some nights I sleep better than others, but my average is the best since my teen years.

For a long time I read in bed until sleep came, ignoring the advice to use the bed for sleep and sex only. I now read in a comfortable chair in our bedroom until I feel sleepy. If I can't go to sleep, I get back up and read some more until sleep comes. IT WORKS. I should've tried it long ago.

I also try to go to bed and get up at the same time. It doesn't always work, but I'm getting pretty good at it.

Another key is to choose your night time reading material carefully. I'm now reading Tom MacDonald's Murder In The Charlestown Bricks, the fourth in his Dermot Sparhawk crime series. It makes me happy and puts me in the mood to go to sleep. I'm careful to find an appropriate time to put the book down and go to sleep. If it upsets me I read on until I come to something that calms me.

Tom asked my permission to include a character with my name. I've just come to that section. I won't spoil it for those planning to read the book, but I will tell you that he describes me and lays out my background--and then massages the details to fit the story line. He does a marvelous job using his imagination and storytelling ability to create the profile he wants. It's hard to go to sleep when you're smiling ear to ear. 

*  *  *

Finally, Integrative Sexual Health tells us that low T is no longer just for older men. It can happen at any age. Strength training, healthy eating, and good sleep habits work at any age.

Testosterone replacement therapy should be a last resort. It can have worrisome side effects, such as decreased sperm production and shrinkage of the testicles. "Testosterone, like all hormones, has multiple action on many body functions and on the mind," Dr. Weil tells us. "In my opinion, it should be taken--and prescribed--only to correct a deficiency documented by appropriate blood tests."

December 1, 2018


Why Is Strength Training So Complicated?

A: That may be a problem if you dwell on all the different forms and methods of resistance training. But not if you look on the different approaches as options--a good thing--keeping in mind that the key factor in building strength is overload or exerting yourself beyond what you are accustomed. We have a new study from the UK that illustrates that point. Another study looks at the effort required to combat the effects of sedentary living late in life.

Both studies show that effective exercise does not have to be complicated. Overload is the overriding factor.

The first study evaluates Time-Under-Load (TUL) as a variable in strength training; it refers to repetition duration, how long it takes to lift and lower a weight.

A team of U.S. and British researchers, led by Professor James P. Fisher, Southhampton Solent University in England, tested the effect of TUL on strength, body composition, muscle size, and fasting blood sugar. "The purpose of this study was to compare load, and TUL matched groups performing resistance exercise using different repetition durations," they wrote in introducing the study. In other words, they zeroed in on the duration of each repetition.

Fifty-nine male and female participants were randomized into 3 groups: a control group lifting at a normal speed, a slow group, and a very slow group.

Following two different routines emphasizing the chest press, leg press, and pull down, the subjects performed nine exercises to "momentary failure," which took about 12 reps in the control group, four or five in the slow group, and only one lift in the very slow group. The total TUL was 90 seconds for all three groups.

All participants were experience trainers and lifted twice a week.

After 10 weeks, subjects in all three group showed significant strength increases in all exercises, but no between-group differences in strength or other variables.

"Repetition duration does not affect the increase in strength in trained participants where exercise is performed to momentary failure," the researchers concluded.

"Our paper showed that you don't need to spend two hours in the gym five times a week, as many people think," Dr. Fisher told Washington Post writer Amby Burfoot. "Even trained individuals continue to make gains with less than an hour a week," he continued. "My own workouts take less than 20 minutes, twice a week."

"The main message," Fisher told Burfoot, "is that resistance training can be relatively simple and still effective. It doesn't have to get complicated by various training methods and protocols."

Overload is the key. You can lift at any pace you enjoy--short of heaving the weight--but it is important to continue each set until you can't do another rep in good form.

Exercising for LIFE

The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) Study by Tufts University Professor Roger A. Fielding and colleagues is the largest and longest randomized study of older adult exercise.

Participants ranging in age from 70 to 89 years, considered at high risk for mobility disorders, were randomized to exercise or study groups. Exercise sessions involved 30 minutes of walking, strength training focused primarily on the legs, 10 minutes of balance training, and flexibility exercises for large muscle groups. A goal of 150 minutes weekly was set for the exercise group. Initial results showed a significant reduction in risk of physical disability in the exercise group, even in those with a lower level of functioning at the start of the study. This prompted a follow-up analysis to determine the amount of exercise required to achieve improvements in physical functioning.

The secondary study showed that participants whose physical activity increased the most had the most improvements in outcomes such as mobility and walking speed. A pleasant surprise was that clinically meaningful reductions in risks of physical disability occurred with an increase of just one exercise session per week. A fraction of the 150 minute standard.

"Our analysis showed that the required amount of exercise to achieve substantial benefits for older adults at risk for physical disability is relatively small--only 56 minutes weekly," Fielding told Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. "Even a small increase in the amount of weekly exercise can have substantial benefits," he continued.

"When it comes to getting moving, it seems there really is no such thing as too little, too late," the Health Letter concluded.

For inactive oldsters almost any amount of exercise constitutes overload--activity beyond what they are used to. The first step leads to another and another. Progress brings more activity and more mobility.

November 1, 2018


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