Category Archives: Exercise

Jack LaLanne 1959 Video On How To Keep Your Hands (And Everything Else) Fit

I love this guy. He’s so infectious.

This was the first episode of The Jack LaLanne Show, from 1959 I think. I was looking for his hand exercise. It starts at 11:22 in this video. Just the hand exercise is less than a minute. I dare you to do it with him and not feel it, especially in the end where you’re doing it as fast as you can. This is so good if you spend a lot of time on a computer.

At about 17:28 he does some face and neck exercises. “How to do face lifting by making faces … by exercising the muscles of the face.” His show had to be the forerunner for all the exercise videos that followed.

Study: Inactivity Does Not Lead To Fatness, It’s The Other Way Around

ChildhoodObesity2I was watching the BBC program “The Men Who Made Us Fat” and was startled to hear the gentleman being interviewed say that a recent study confirmed children are no less active today than they were 30 years ago. He said that the rise in obesity is not a result of decreased activity, but of changes in what and how we eat. (I believe this but it was odd hearing someone of authority say it.)

I’ve made this point several times, referring to government’s (e.g. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign1) and industry’s attempts to shift focus away from the food we eat, towards the activity we’re supposedly not getting, as the reason we’re overweight. It’s a ploy. It blames the individual instead of having to confront the real culprit – the monolithic food industry, a significant player in the US’s emerging status as “corporate oligarchy“.

I don’t know the study upon which his claim was made, but I found this:

Fatness Leads To Inactivity, But Inactivity Does Not Lead To Fatness: A Longitudinal Study In Children, Archives of Disease in Childhood, April 2010

This was a prospective cohort of 202 children in the UK over 7 to 10 years. Cross-sectional studies repeatedly find a link between obesity and inactivity, but they can’t (by nature of study design) determine what caused what. A prospective study like this can determine direction of causality because it looks at changes over time.

Physical activity (PA) was measured using Actigraph accelerometers. The children wore the accelerometers for 7 consecutive days at each annual time point. Two components of PA were analysed: the total volume of PA and the time spent at moderate and vigorous intensities. Body fat per cent (BF%) was measured annually by dual energy x ray absorptiometry.

Results: BF% was predictive of changes in PA over the following 3 years, but PA levels were not predictive of subsequent changes in BF% over the same follow-up period.

Conclusions: Physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness rather than its cause. This reverse causality may explain why attempts to tackle childhood obesity by promoting PA have been largely unsuccessful.

This study cited other similar studies done on adults which found the same thing:

“Cause must precede effect, and longitudinal studies that measure fatness and activity levels at baseline and long-term follow-up can use the rule of temporality to investigate the dominant direction of causality. Four studies have carried out this kind of analysis in adults.

All four adult studies reported a significant inverse association between baseline fatness and follow-up PA but not between baseline PA and follow-up fatness, suggesting that fatness leads to inactivity but that inactivity does not lead to fatness.”

“All four found that a higher body mass/fat consistently increased the odds of becoming sedentary, whereas being sedentary rarely increased the odds of becoming obese.”

It’s the food:

“If childhood fatness is not the result of physical inactivity, the implication may be that excess energy intake underlies fatness and inactivity.”

The image of the “couch-potato” child who is obese because he is sedentary runs deep in Western consciousness. However, the possibility that the reverse obtains, that his fatness is the cause rather than the result of his inactivity, has far-reaching implications. Although there may be many benefits to PA, the findings of this study, coupled with the limited success of PA interventions aimed at improving BMI, imply that public health strategies may need to target energy intake to curb the year-on-year rise in childhood obesity.

I am surprised when I hear intelligent people say if you exercise more you’ll lose weight. I shouldn’t be surprised though, it just means the food industry has been successful in pushing their message, diverting attention from the real reason Americans are overweight.

Exercise is great for the circulatory system, the lymph, the lungs, the mitochondria … many parts of the body. But if you want to lose weight and live a long, healthy life, you’ll have to change your diet. As Shaun says, “You can’t run from a bad diet.”

1 See my post Michelle Obama’s Watered Down “Let’s Move” Campaign Pleased The Food Industry

Study: Paleo Diet Worsens Cholesterol


Many in the CrossFit community follow a Paleo diet.

In this new study, researchers put 44 healthy men and women (age: early 30s) on an unrestricted Paleo diet for 10 weeks. The diet included lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. No grains, beans, or dairy. No processed food, sugar, soda, or coffee. It is meant to mimic perceived food consumption of humans during the Paleolithic Era, a time before cultivation and domestication of animals. Participants also engaged in a CrossFit-based, high-intensity circuit training program:

Unrestricted Paleolithic Diet Is Associated With Unfavorable Changes To Blood Lipids In Healthy Subjects, International Journal of Exercise Science, 15 February 2014

After 10 weeks, cholesterol measurements worsened:

HDL (baseline optimal): Pre 82, Post 68
LDL: Pre 93, Post 106
Total Cholesterol (TC): Pre 169, Post 179
TC/HDL, Pre 3.0, Post 3.3

HDL is “good” cholesterol.  You want it to go up.  It went down.  LDL is “bad” cholesterol.  You want it to go down.  It went up.  These changes reached a level of statistical significance (so, not due to chance) and were, to use the authors’ term, “substantial.”

Triglycerides also increased slightly. The worst outcomes were seen among the subgroup that had been the healthiest before starting the diet.

“Subjects with optimal initial blood lipids were unable to maintain their ideal blood lipid values after adhering to the Paleo diet for 10 weeks.”

Interestingly, subjects also decreased body weight (about 7 pounds) and body fat (from 24.3% to 20.7%), two changes that are often accompanied by improvements in cholesterol levels, not detriments.

“Our results demonstrate that an ad libitum unrestricted Paleo diet intervention is associated with deleterious changes to blood lipids in healthy subjects, despite concurrent improvements in body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness.”

You may exercise and appear fit, but what you eat matters. This reminds me of the runners who develop atherosclerosis and die prematurely. Being lean, muscular, and aerobically fit may not be enough to counteract effects of a poor diet.

Does Long Distance Running Cut A Life Short?


New York City Marathon, 2005

I don’t know what it is about long distance running, but it seems to cut a life short. Here’s the post about marathon runners having more arterial plaque than a group of their sedentary, matched peers: Study: Marathon Runners Have More Plaque

And here’s an article from this week. It summarizes a presentation given at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference on Sunday.

Too Much Running Tied to Shorter Life Span, Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay, 1 April 2014

The presentation was “Are Cardiovascular Risk Factors Responsible for the U-Shaped Relationship between Running and Longevity? The MASTERS Athletic Study,” but I had no luck finding it. (Update: Here it is. Thanks, Shaun.)

From HealthDay:

“Recent research suggests there may a point of diminishing returns with running. … People who get either no exercise or high-mileage runners both tend to have shorter lifespans than moderate runners.”

The researchers looked at data from ~3,800 men and women runners, average age 46. (You can add yourself to this database by filling out the online questionnaire here.)

None of the following factors explained the shorter lives of high-mileage runners (more than 20 miles/week):

  • Use of NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as ibuprofen/Advil and naproxen/Aleve)
  • Aspirin use
  • Blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking history

Here’s their data and conclusion:


Where’s diet? I’d love to see diet’s impact on these numbers.

Dr. James O’Keefe, director of preventive cardiology at the Mid-American Heart Institute in Kansas City (from HealthDay):

“Even though the heart disease risk factors couldn’t explain the shorter longevity of high-mileage runners, there do seem to be potentially life-shortening ill effects from that amount of running.

In O’Keefe’s view, the “sweet spot” for jogging for health benefits is a slow to moderate pace, about two or three times per week, for a total of one to 2.5 hours.

O’Keefe advises runners to avoid strenuous exercise for more than an hour at a time.”

What if, to use him as an example, Jim Fixx quit smoking and took up running at the age of 36, as he did, but just ran about 3 hours a week? No marathons. Would he have lived longer? (Fixx, marathoner and author of the hugely popular The Complete Book of Running (1977), died of a heart attack while running. He was 52.)

Study: Marathon Runners Have More Plaque


Jim Fixx in 1980. He died about 4 years after this photo was taken, of a heart attack during his daily run. He was 52. His autopsy revealed considerable plaque build-up.

Shaun sent this study:

Increased Coronary Artery Plaque Volume Among Male Marathon Runners, Missouri Medicine, March/April 2014

Background: This hypothesis, that long-term marathon running is protective against coronary atherosclerosis, was tested by quantitatively assessing coronary artery plaque using high resolution coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA) in veteran marathon runners compared to sedentary control subjects.

Methods: Men in the study completed at least one marathon yearly for 25 consecutive years. All study subjects underwent CCTA, 12-lead electrocardiogram, measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, and lipid panel. A sedentary matched group was derived from a contemporaneous CCTA database of asymptomatic healthy individuals.

Results: Male marathon runners (n = 50) as compared with sedentary male controls (n = 23) had increased total plaque volume (200 vs. 126 mm3, p < 0.01), calcified plaque volume (84 vs. 44 mm3, p < 0.0001), and non-calcified plaque volume (116 vs. 82 mm3, p = 0.04).

Conclusion: Long-term male marathon runners may have paradoxically increased coronary artery plaque volume.

How could this be?

“… an emerging body of scientific data suggests that chronic, excessive, high-intensity exercise may induce oxidative stress and myocardial fibrosis, accelerate atherosclerosis, increase vascular wall thickness, and increase cardiac chamber stiffness.”

So, what constitutes excessive? They cited the Copenhagen City Heart Study which followed 1,878 runners and 10,158 non-runners for up to 35 years. It uncovered a U-shaped curve … those who exercised too little and also too much had increased risk for mortality compared to moderate exercisers.

“… the benefits of running were most significant for those who jogged between 1 to 2.5 hours per week, at a slow to moderate pace, with a frequency of about three times per week. In those runners who were performing higher volume, higher intensity running, the long-term mortality rates were not significantly different from non-runners. In other words, excessive running may have abolished the remarkable improvements in longevity conferred by lower doses of running.”

One hour a week is less than 10 minutes a day. At a slow to moderate pace. That was the best for health and longevity.  Wow.

It looks like running itself may damage blood vessels. But what about diet? You’ll note that both the marathoners and sedentary men had elevated LDL cholesterol (sedentary: 108 mg/dl, marathoners: 112), and, some would say, elevated total cholesterol (sedentary: 183 mg/dl, marathoners 186).  All that running may have been whittling away their weight, but it wasn’t whittling away their cholesterol.

As Dr. Esselstyn famously showed,1 cholesterol is strongly impacted by diet:

“After 5 years on Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet, the average total cholesterol levels of his research group dropped from 246 milligrams per deciliter to 137 mg/dL This is the most profound drop in cholesterol ever documented in the medical literature in a study of this type.”

The Wall Street Journal covered this study and similar ones in Why Runners Can’t Eat Whatever They Want, Studies Show There Are Heart Risks to Devil-May-Care Diets—No Matter How Much You Run, and included this quote from the editor of Runner’s World:

“Ambrose Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and editor-at-large of Runner’s World magazine, is 67 years old, 6 feet tall and only 147 pounds. A lifelong vegetarian, he subsists mostly on fruits, vegetables and nuts, though he also eats “cookies and all dairy products—cheeses, ice creams etc.,” he wrote in an email.

“Last March I learned that I have a very high coronary calcium,” he said.”

I know several vegetarians with high cholesterol, over 200 mg/dl. A good chunk of their calories come from animal foods – eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products. “I have to get my protein,” they tell me. Dr. Esselstyn found that when his patients dropped the dairy, their cholesterol dropped along with it.

It may very well be, as Shaun says, that you can’t run from your diet.

By the way, the technology used to measure plaque, coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA), was referred to as “noninvasive.” Not true. All radiation is invasive. This report by the National Academies Press says that all ionizing radiation damages cells. There is no level of exposure below which damage to a cell does not occur.

1Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, January 2008