Monday, July 30, 2012

Move...Even When Clobbered By "Enforced Sedentism": It's Your Body Right?

A lot of us are forced for hours into positions for which we were never designed: namely, sitting. If you have a long commute or business trip, school and camp drop-offs as part of the immersion of your lifestyle into modern Americana, or your job simply involves ceaseless cubicle occupancy or van driving, then you don't need reminding that it's difficult to keep moving under those circumstances. And that kind of "enforced sedentism" wreaks havoc with your efforts to get and remain fit.

But it doesn't have to.

I decided to test my ability to weave exercise into an otherwise sedentary day. I used two tools familiar to readers of Fitness For Geeks (and if you're not familiar, please consider reading the print or Kindle version:); the FitBit tracker and the EndoMondo sports tracking app.

The resuts were good, and certainly not complex to describe or replicate. And this isn't just static data either – it's reassuring feedback indicating that you are in control, it's your life, not some unsympathetic employer's or the implacable forces of modern life.

Here's the day in a nutshell: I first had a 20-mile roundtrip car commute through suburbia to drop my son off at camp. I started the day with a set of pullups on a nearby jungle gym, then hopped into the car and dropped off the tyke. Starting from that parking lot, I walked while making a necessary cell-phone call (note the qualifier; I do not spend a lot of time on phones) – maybe a little over a mile. During all this time I had a FitBit clipped to my belt.

Now the hard part movement-wise – I had to make a long drive to northern New England, about three+ hours in duration. At every rest stop, I parked farther away than the facilities (on purpose) and stopped at most opportunities. This account is sounding a little anal, but bear with me.

Finally, when I got to Vermont in the late afternoon, the first thing I did was take a hilly four-mile walk, as the sun melted toward the ridgeline. That obviously was the coup de grace concerning my efforts to get some substantive movement in.

The FitBit dashboard shows that I got in more than 7 miles (an equivalent estimate) of walking that day, took thousands of steps, and expended about 2300 calories (what with zero jogging, cycling, treadmilling, etc.).

The EndoMondo screen shows the walk. The new element of these stats for EndoMondo is an estimate of hydration, here 25 ounces or about a pint and a half. This is a reasonably good estimate of the amount of fluids I would have to imbibe to replenish the sweat lost during the hike, particularly during the summer. The calorie estimate, which really isn't that important anyways, is artificially low, because I configured the walk as "Fitness Walking" rather than "Hiking," to which the app assigns higher calorie outputs.

In reality, the walk involved an elevation gain of about 800 feet in two miles, so that qualifies as more like hiking.

The upshot? I sat on my behind driving all day, but I still accomplished the equivalent movement of an excellent rest day with reasonable metabolic health. Proper, as in not constant, eating and movement throughout the day will improve your fasting glucose and insulin. Try it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Endomondo's New Look: And What Happens When There's No Data Connection?

Endomondo has a nice new look now to their App Interface, and your phone, whether it be an iPhone or Android, will "automagically" upgrade to the new version. Which is version 8. You'll notice some other touches, like I have (but I haven't seen all of them), such as the photogenic "terrain" option or feature of the mapped depiction of your workout.

The photo shows this topographical quality of a nice mountainbike climb I did on June 30.

When you record a workout with the sports tracking app Endomondo, it will automatically upload the data to your personal page at But what happens if your phone and the app itself cannot connect to the Internet? This is what happened to me lately when I was outside the country. The short answer is that the app will store your bike/run/other activity locally, on the device's hardware, until the next time it can connect with the Web.

This happens without your intervention, the next time the app can get a web or HTTP connection from say a WiFi service, so that it can pipe the data from your workout to EndoMondo. You just open the app and discover that it's already happened (such as when I returned from my trip).

I have an Android cellphone, but I assume with all the different equpment types out there, that some people may lose their data if it can't be automatically uploaded. If you choose "History" on the app's menu, it will display a little icon (perhaps a red cross) next to the workouts that haven't been uploaded yet.

The app's code seems to be making web connections beneath the surface – meaning that I have not found a menu command that manually compels the app to "try to connect to the web,"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

N.Y. Times Articles Underline the Fine Line Between Fun And Risky Decision-Making In The Mountains: The Role Global Warming Is Playing

As many of us flock to places like the Cascades, the Alps, The Andes, and Denali in Alaska with sometimes lifelong ambitions at stake, the Alpine environment is becoming riskier and even more unpredictable. It has something to do with the increased numbers of inexperienced people that are venturing into the mountains for adventure and bragging rights, but it goes beyond that.

Extreme shifts in weather and rapidly changing conditions brought on by global warming make decision-making even more complicated, even for mountain guides, rangers, and other experts who have fine-tuned instincts when it comes to retracing the climbing routes they know very well.

The same "odd" weather patterns we all notice in less Alpine-oriented regions take place in the high mountains, rapidly altering route safety, increasing the risk of avlanches, ice falls, and dicey, often lethal conditions on so-called safer climbing paths. As the article pointed out, the nature of the popular West Buttress route on Denali is changing to the extent that it may become impassable for most climbers trying to reach the summit.

Is it a spell of especially tragic bad luck, in combination with the fact that we find out about everything that happens almost instantaneously and that news is front-loaded with the bad outcomes, or has a greater shroud of tragedy settled over the Alps and other places? The press is now reporting that two more people just died on Mt. Blanc, after nine were killed by an avalanche last Thursday. This isn't any reason to stay out of the mountains and other remote beautiful places, but it does underline the importance of remaining conservative and making accurate self assessments during your excursions in the wilderness.

Tom Sims in the NY Times also chimes in on the spate of recent outdoors tragedies, why athletes are motivated to take extreme risks, as well as a New Zealand researcher who studies these issues.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Veneer of Civilization Glosses Over Potential Recreational Hazards in The Alps

This article in the British paper The Guardian is spot on in its discussion of the "deceptive" hazards represented by the European Alps. Visiting climbers and enthusiasts cannot take them lightly, just because many of the mountains are "only" 4,000 meters or about 13,123 feet or less. The veneer of civilization and amazing engineering feats such as cable-cars tend to gloss over any potential Alpine hazards. I've taken an interest in what's happened during the last month or so because I'm a recreational climber who has returned recently from a guided climb on the Monch and Jungfrau.

We usually hear about everything that happens, from near deaths to personality and petty team-dynamics squabbles, on Mt. Everest and other places in the Himalaya. But it's the Alps where the vast majority of tragic accidents occur. Nine climbers died in an avalanche on July 12 on the Mt. Blanc massif near Chamonix in France. Five climbers fell to their deaths on the Lagginhorn near Zermatt in Switzerland on July 3. Two climbers from Italy died on the Monch in May in a fall.

My son and I about a month ago were cavorting in the snow at the end of a cable-car ride at the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise in Zermatt. This is a very limited area for Summer skiing near the Matterhorn and the Klein Matterhorn. It's deceptively fun and seemingly hazard-free; a Summer holiday destination for families. Neverthless, a young man from Costa Rica took his snowboard out on the glacier about a week ago and tragically died after falling into a crevasse.

The mountains are imposing, sublime, humbling, and potentially unstable geological features that make us seem very small and insignificant by comparison. As essentially a "flatlander" from the suburbs, I like to refer to a climb as an Everyman's moon landing. "Fear is good," as the mountaineer Ed Viesturs puts it. I'm a proponent of following your gut, even if it means you might not reach your goal that day. Life is fragile. We have to pay the mountains their proper respect, and always keep in mind who you might leave behind.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cold Thermogenesis; A Fitness Feature You Probably Don't Pay Any Attention To, But Should

I listened to the informative wide-ranging podcast involving Ben Greenfield and Dr. Jack Kruse this week, and it emphasized the fitness advantages of cold thermogenesis. The picture shows the ultra cold-water swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh from Outside Magazine, but you don't have to brave Arctic swimming to accrue the benefits of cold thermogenesis (CT).

Cold thermogenesis literally refers to the extra expenditure of calories to keep your body warm, in response to cold exposure. CT is a health optimization strategy, and much more. The advantages of CT go way beyond ramping up your metabolic rate by shivering (or even by its physical precursor, non-shivering thermogenesis), according to Dr. Kruse's research.

We know that cold exposure such as ice water baths or cold-water swimming has a hormetic and anti-inflammatory effect. In other words, CT helps you reduce stiffness and inflammation from exercise or daily life, and it's a "good stress" that often results in beneficial, adaptive cellular responses. As long as you do it enough, CT also has the following benefits:

  • It stimulates brown fat to burn more fats for energy; brown fat is a metabolically active form of fat cell or adipocyte which plays an important role in generating body heat when we're exposed tot he cold. People greatly differ in the amount of brown fat they have – it diminishes with age, and a person who has more fat probably also has more brown fat.
  • Our bodies use energy, our stored fats, much more efficiently when we're becoming cold adapted.
  • Dr. Kruse has found that hormonal states involving growth hormone and leptin, for instance, are positively affected by CT. He points outs that CT can generate more metabolically active brown fat or brown adipose tissue. He believes CT in general can play a role in extending longevity.
  • CT is an appetite suppressant and make you feel more energetic afterwards. I can attest to these qualities based on my own experiences with CT. You continue to burn more calories at least an hour after cold exposure, like after an ocean swim.

For example, "athletes such as Michael Phelps have benefited from cold thermogenesis" to pump up their athletic performance, according to the podcast.

Dr. Kruse theorizes that CT stimulates an "ancient pathway" in our bodies whose essence is the evolutionary adaptation by humans to cold environments. According to Dr. Kruse, the U.S. military such as Navy Seals are paying more attention to CT since discovering that their physical performance has improved dramatically when preceded by cold-water exposure.

So how do you introduce CT into your lifestyle in the first place? I advocate cold-water swimming, which I've been doing all late-Spring and Summer. Get a pool thermometer and test the temperature of a local ocean, lake, or river. I've been swimming in temperatures ranging from 49 to 64. You don't have to live in the country to benefit from a cold waterbody, as many cities are located next to rivers and oceans.

Even if you live in Florida, for instance, you might be able to find cold pools (at a fitness facility or spa, for instance), or simply take cold showers.

Swimming in 60-degree fahrenheit (16 degrees celsius) water is not as difficult as you think, and is actually pleasurable given its beneficial effect on your body.

As common sense would dictate, the warmer temps on the latter scale permit longer term swimming and thus probably a better adaptative response (at 49-50 degrees, I can hardly even take a stroke before quickly leaving the water, leaving me wondering about the efficacy of that polar plunge, beyond its hormetic effect). All of these swims are accomplished without a wetsuit.

Brown fat metabolism seems to operate "below the radar," via a different mechanism than the shivering of muscles. Although I'm becoming cold adapted, I tend to shiver a fair amount after cold-water exposure, which makes me think that I do not carry very much brown fat.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Moderate on Those Carbs, and Try a Tabata Ocean Swim

I made sure I got in an ocean swim yesterday before honkering down with my laptop. I tried something spontaneous and new; a Tabata ocean swim routine. Recall that Tabata sprints (see Chapter 7 of my book) involve going all-out for 20 seconds, taking ten second rests, for up to eight repetitions.

Tabata intervals or sprints are probably the most popular form of high intensity interval training (HIIT).

The water was cool (about 62 degrees) so I'm going to start out swimming hard anyways to increase thermogenesis and get warm. I took about 14 freestyle strokes about as hard as I could (assuming that it takes about a second and a half at least to complete the freestyle motion with both arms – thus the equivalent of 20 seconds). Then I counted "one 100, two 100..." up till ten, and sprinted again. I did eight repetitions.

Generally, the routine seemed much easier and more pleasurable than doing the running style Tabata.

This had followed some pull-ups and about 20 minutes of upper body weightlifting, so I cannot think of a better and more gratifying Summer routine.

High-fat, low-fat diet study

The On Point WBUR radio show in the U.S. has discussed the recent study, published in JAMA, that raised some interesting issues about dietary composition and health.

In the study, which was conducted at two Boston hospitals, 21 subjects underwent a weight-loss program, then were put on three different diets, to determine which was the best diet for helping keep the weight off.

"[The] participants consumed an isocaloric low-fat diet (60% of energy from carbohydrate, 20% from fat, 20% from protein; high glycemic load), low–glycemic index diet (40% from carbohydrate, 40% from fat, and 20% from protein; moderate glycemic load), and very low-carbohydrate diet (10% from carbohydrate, 60% from fat, and 30% from protein; low glycemic load) in random order, each for 4 weeks."

So they went from low-fat to high fat diets; and high-carb to low carb diets.

The study results underlined the metabolic advantages of higher fat diets. The Total Energy Expenditure (TEE) associated with the higher fat diet, or how many calories the subjects expended per day, was more than 300 calories per day higher than the TEE associated with the high-carb diet. That's huge – about the equivalent of working out moderately hard for an hour. So, counterintuitively (at least for those of us brought up under the low-fat dogma), the high-fat diet was associated with a much higher metabolic rate than the high carb one, making it somewhat easier to keep weight off.

You can read the study here; it's distributed in its entirety for free.

Swiss Alps accident

Another climber, this one from England, has died climbing in the Alps, reportedly on a mountain called the Nadelhorn. This happened a day after the tragedy that killed five climbers in another part of the Swiss Alps.

The fact is, the Alps are highly exposed and can be very perilous for us visitor climbers. Even though they are literally half the height above sea level, they kill far more people than K2 or Everest combined (obviously more people are hiking and climbing in the Alps than the latter two Himilaya peaks). But you get the point; any mountain can pose risks and you should never climb outside of your acceptable risk zone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Very Bad Climbing Accident Reported Today In The Swiss Alps

The Alpine climbing accidents have been particularly prevalent this Summer, as five climbers fell to their deaths today on the Lagginhorn in Switzerland, according to several press reports.

The BBC is now reporting that the five people who were killed were German, and horribly, included young people ranging in age from 14 to 21. A mountain guide who met the group, probably at a hut, the night before, provided more insight into the tragedy. It had rained, froze, and snowed on top of the ice; he speculated that they all had slipped on ice beneath snow. He thought they were not roped up. There is no mention of whether they were wearing crampons or not. The guide said that "this is not a difficult mountain."

The initial reports of the tragedy appear in the Swiss online news source, The Washington Post, and MSNBC, for instance.

The Lagginhorn overlooks the Saas Valley not far from the city of Brig, the border with Italy, and the village of Zermatt, which lies in an adjacent valley. The Lagginhorn is bout 4010 meters or about 13,156 feet above sea level.

Two climbers from Italy fell and died on the Monch about a month ago, and a young Irish climber recently died in a fall from the Wetterhorn near Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland.

These tragic accidents seem to have a few elements in common:

* They involve visitors to the Alps, not Swiss climbers or guides;

* They are falling deaths, not caused by "objective" hazards like rockfalls or avalanches;

* The accidents often happen during the descent;

* Some of the accidents, such as the the Monch incident, involve roped climbers, where one climber falls and pulls another or others down (but these accounts have not been verified, so one shouldn't draw hasty conclusions).