Monday, July 29, 2013

Six Reasons Why These Greek Islanders Have Exceptional Healthy Longevity


You've probably already seen a little story on broadcast or print news about the Greek island of Ikaria, where the people exceed the typical western European life expectancy (which usually isn't that shabby to begin with) by ten years. Sixty percent of the people are still kickin' up their heels into their nineties, and many remain strong, viable, hard working, and without chronic disease well into old age.

Healthy longevity is lots of little and big things put together over many years (as well as some luck along the way). It's not "just genes" or "mostly working out every day and eating well."

Here are six things gleaned from press reports, including this and this, all of which I wrote about in the various chapters I cobbled together for Fitness For Geeks:

(1) They move around a lot and have to stay physically strong to live. Everything is up and down in their mountain village. They're not doing the Ironman; they are just staying physically strong. They undoubtedly burn more calories, and maintain stronger joints and leaner mass than the typical American. They're outside a lot, so they get some natural sunlight.

(2) They live on fish, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, a little meat like pork, small amounts of bread, no processed food. The nutrition, along with the lean mass, helps them avoid the metabolic problems (out of control fasting blood sugar and insulin) that quickly lead to chronic disease. It's a bit like the original Meditteranean or cast away diet.

(3) They average a lot of sleep (eight or more hours per day), and go by the sun. They generally go to bed early and wake up early. They're not parked in front of screens half the night. They take naps every day (like most old people but the younger should consider doing that too!).

(4) They live simply, slowly, and have very little stress and anxiety compared with modern western ways. There is apparently very little depression or dementia among their elderly, compared with skyrocketing rates in America and elsewhere.

(5) They have a high-antioxidant diet; they eat fresh veggies and drink tons of their own herbal tea.

(6) They drink their own red wine, sometimes a tibble at mid-morning. One glass of wine lowers blood pressure and may have a hormetic effect. They apparently don't binge drink, however (well, they probably have a few partiers among them).

These people aren't Supermen. But the reasons experts pay attention to them and others (like the Okinawans) is that the rest of us hoi polloi can come away with some valuable lessons from these long-lived people who make health look easy.

A National Geographical Mag article and photos on Ikaria: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/happiest-places/blue-zones-ikaria-photos/#/ikaria-seaside_41622_600x450.jpg

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Great Low-Impact Routine In Water That Takes Only One Minute

If you want a very short, highly efficient fitness technique, or you're injured and you want a great "no impact" routine, try this. Call it "strenuous treading water." You don't even have to dunk your head.

Go out in a pool or a lake a little over your head (so your feet don't touch the bottom). Place your hands behind your back like you are hand-cuffed, and tread water with your legs, keeping your head above the water. Don't roll over on your back, because that's cheating.

Try it for 20 seconds first. You can use the clocks and timers that indoor and outdoor pools usually display. Try to work your way up to one minute or more. It will make you a stronger swimmer, a stronger treader of water, and fitter overall, and it only takes about a minute.

It's basically bicycling underwater. I've found longer, deeper strokes with your legs are more efficient, and the more you do it, the better you get at the stroke technique. The best thing about it is that unlike track sprinting, this routine creates zero impact or your joints. Yet I feel a similar lactic acid build-up in the quads and hamstrings as I do when sprinting on grass or a bike, without the anti-knee consequences, for example.

You can also do a Tabata version of this exercise: 20 seconds treading water; 10 seconds rest, eight repetitions. Work your way up gradually to eight total reps.

I think the Navy Seals do something like this, but I imagine they handcuff the feet as well. When your friends ask you what you did for a workout you can yawn and say, "Something the Seals do in a pool."

Other articles like this one:

The Power :: Run Ratio

10 Tips For Running Your First Mile: Getting Started

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Newbie Jives To Surfing's Mojo

One of Kauai, Hawaii's great features, along with lost beaches and jungle-covered mountains, is surfing.

I recently took a lesson on the South Shore, which was fun and rewarding and I actually caught a wave and rode it myself two days later down at Poipu. Here's why I think it's a great sport and fitness pursuit:

You're getting super fit (over time) without expressly trying to. When I was done with a "session" (i.e., tumbling off the board, scrambling back on in the froth, and taking my licks), I felt like I'd done an all-body workout without thinking about it.

Different than the gym, when you're trying to build up those shoulders. Lots of rapid paddling, climbing up on the board in surf, even lugging the board around, for me, a heavy 10-foot longboard. As a newbie, of course, I wasted a lot of energy, similar to a skier trying to learn powder skiing for the first time.

It's a fantastic sport for kids; I saw the "keiki" dealing confidently with the ocean and snatching impressive rides. All the kids ("groms") were tan, healthy looking, and gave off a lot of cool determination. They weren't inside somewhere in front of a screen. Surfing fosters camaraderie, or at least it should. Everyone looks after each other.

You're outside under the sun, soaking up the natural vitamin D. Being a "haole," I protected myself with a 55-SPF stick, but I did get big sun doses. This was combined with all that rich Vitamin A from the island's papayas (a great source of A, C, and potassium; better than pineapple).  A papaya is an example of a high-carb food (about 22 grams of sugar per large fruit) that's actually good because its loaded with nutrients.

You're out in Mother Nature dealing with the ocean, which in the longterm fosters a solid sense of the sea. Fitness shouldn't always involve manmade, indoor, and synthetic environments. Like that other "Last Great Place" in America, Montana (the brown bear), you're also developing a working knowledge of and healthy respect for a top-of-the-foodchain animal, the tiger shark. Nature isn't just a pretty video montage on Animal Planet anymore.

This sport was invented by the Hawaiians, after all, and comes with its own homespun wisdom. Not to mention the lingo. "Surfing isn't about thinking, which lawyers, doctors, and engineers have a problem with," said my teacher, a good guy named Chris who had none of the usual arrogance of the experienced. It reminds me of skiing, in which you are usually told, "you have to do A, B, and C...but don't think."

Get a lesson and then practice what you've learned until it becomes intuitive. Two musts that apply to other things in life: "Never turn your back on a wave... and watch a beach and the break for at least 10 minutes before surfing it."

I also spent a lot of time on Hanalei Bay on the North Shore stand-up paddle boarding, which was cool. Surfers call stand-up paddle boarders "janitors" and "moppers."