The Fight for Recess in DC!

Like many major school districts in the US, schools administrators in Washington DC are cutting back on recess time in order to make room for more instruction time in classrooms. In DC, the decision to cut recess to only 15 minutes was met with anger and many parents voicing strong opinion that kids need more time to be active, as reported by the Washington Post.

Research conducted by a multitude of experts, most recently the Mathmatica Policy Research shows that children are able to focus and preform better when they are given the chance to go be active throughout the day, a fact that should surprise no one who has spent more than 30 minutes with your average eight year old.

The CDC recommends that a child be active for 60 minutes everyday. In some neighborhoods in DC and throughout the US, it truly isn’t safe enough to play outside after school, especially since 3:00-6:00 PM is the most dangerous time of day in places where gangs are active. For some kids, taking away the opportunity for activity during school hours substantially decreases their opportunity to meet agreed upon minimums, which can lead to many undesireable health outcomes.

To Stretch, or Not to Stretch? That is the Question.

From some previous posts, you may have gathered that our library hosts a number of joggers. Personally I am still at a fairly novice level, but I do enjoy keeping up with exercise research to make sure that I am doing everything I can to prevent injury while bolstering health and (hopefully) longevity.

Last week there was a bit of a perfect online storm in regard to stretching prior to exercise. The absolutely astounding Mind the Science Gap blog (seriously, have you read that yet?!) from the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center tackled stretching-related myths one at a time, debunking them with evidence from multiple clinical studies.

Then my favorite popular health blog, the New York Times Well Blog, published a piece on stretching and physical performance, titled “Reasons not to Stretch,” so Ms. Reynold’s take on the debate there is clear.

Me? I do not stretch much prior to running, but do so religiously afterward. I’m simply here to lead you to the evidence and let you decide for yourselves.

Age is No Excuse: “Fit at 102”

My running inspiration Jean posted about exercise regimens in middle age and their benefits, but according to an article from the Washington Post, it is never too late to start working out.

Take Ray Clark, currently 102 years old, who began exercising at the age of 98 after his wife of 67 years passed away. Yet the National Institute on Aging reports that “only 11 percent of people 85 and older engage in any regular exercise, despite clear evidence that the vast majority could work out safely, particularly if shown how. Fewer than 15 percent of people 65 and older do any regular strength training” – when strength training can be a particularly beneficial counter to the decline in muscle mass as we age.

Mr. Clark’s exercise regimen is described below:

To watch Clark move around the gym during his weekly half-hour workout is to understand what is possible for the oldest members of society, as well as the adaptations that must be made for them.

He warms up for 3 minutes 30 seconds on a rowing machine, not a treadmill, because it works both his upper and lower body. He does 10 reps with 60 pounds on the “pullover” machine, catches and hoists the bouncing kettle bells, then moves 60 pounds 10 times on the “seated row” apparatus. His pushups are done leaning against the steel bar of a weightlifting rack. Then he scoots part way under the bar and does a version of a pull-up.

Any sort of exercise regimen should be discussed with a physician and preferably a certified trainer, but to read Mr. Clark’s full story, visit the Washington Post article here.

Where Should One Run?

"Running" designed by aartiraghu for The Noun Project 2012, CC0

“Running” designed by aartiraghu for The Noun Project 2012, CC0

Since I am from California, you might assume that I’d be inherently prejudiced against winter. That’s really not the case (though I may have admittedly been spoiled by Michigan’s relatively mild winters over the last couple of years)! I love the sparkle of fresh snow and the sound it makes crunching under my boots, and what could be better than a crisp winter day accented by a bright blue sky?

My one complaint would be what the season entails for my running regimen: consignment to sweaty gym basements. Now some of the more extreme runners may say, “But you can still run outside in the snow and ice and that slushy grayness that develops eventually!” Sure, maybe you can – but as a winter neophyte I have enough trouble walking through it, let alone running. So, gym basement it is. And while watching muted reruns of Friends isn’t akin to utter torture, compared to Ann Arbor’s plethora of wonderful spots to jog, it’s a pretty pale comparison.

It seems I’m not the only one to favor running outside as opposed to on a treadmill – as my favorite wellness blogger, Gretchen Reynolds, reports for the New York Times:

“… emerging science suggests there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can’t be replicated on a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle or a track.

You stride differently when running outdoors, for one thing. Generally, studies find, people flex their ankles more when they run outside. They also, at least occasionally, run downhill, a movement that isn’t easily done on a treadmill and that stresses muscles differently than running on flat or uphill terrain. Outdoor exercise tends, too, to be more strenuous than the indoor version. In studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside,treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, primarily because indoor exercisers face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle.”

Read the full article here, and let’s all hope spring plans on arriving soon enough to give us the luxury of choice when it comes to selecting a location to exercise!

Your Appetite, Your Workout

If you’ve been to the gym (any gym, really) recently, I’m sure you’ve noticed the influx of patrons hopping up on the cardio machines in earnest efforts at New Years resolutions.

I’ve written before about two of the main factors for maintained weight loss: diet and exercise. And the theme arises again, in no doubt because we’re so focused on both these aspects, particularly at this time of year. A recent article from my favorite New York Times Well Blog points to new research highlighting the linkages between not only the type of exercise, but the amount of time you stick with it, and its impacts on your appetite. Namely, regular exercise helps regulate overeating. There’s a tangible benefit if I’ve ever read one!

Image from Dan Empfield at Slowtwitch

Image from Dan Empfield at Slowtwitch

There are a few catches, of course (nothing’s ever easy, is it?). Benefits such as appetite regulation took about three months to appear, and running looked to be a more effective form of exercise for that than walking, according to two recent studies.  So keep at it, New Year’s resolutions gym buffs – you’re 1/3 of the way there!

The studies mentioned in the Well Blog are linked below:

Impact of Chronic Exercise on Appetite Control in Overweight and Obese Individuals 

Influence of running and walking on hormonal regulators of appetite in women

Healthy Holiday Habits

The holidays are upon us! During this traditional time of  culinary indulgence, I wanted to take a post to highlight some healthy cooking, eating, and other habits so that you can – hopefully – look back on your holidays and not cringe.

If you’re in the kitchen, there are a veritable TON of Thanksgiving recipes that hit the Thanksgiving trifecta:

“Thanksgiving trifecta” © 2012 Irina Zeylikovich CC BY-NC 3.0

A few of my favorite listings/sources are:

  • Whole Foods Market healthy holiday recipes 
  • Eating Well’s Thanksgiving recipe collection
  • Cooking Light’s holiday entertaining guide
  • Mayo Clinic’s holiday recipes (not to mention some interesting info on nutrition in general)

We’re all aware that it isn’t just what’s on the table that impacts those notorious holiday pounds, it’s also what we choose and how much of it we eat. I love food far too much to ever suggest that you go without your own favorites, but there are some general guidelines that can be handy:

“Thanksgiving Turkey” © 2009 by WishUponACupcake CC BY 2.0

  • WebMD’s tips for a healthier Thanksgiving recommend going for white meat, plain vegetables (I’ll chime in that roasted veggies are a great – not to mention delicious – filler and don’t need a ton of fatty sauces and flavoring), roasted sweet potatoes (ditto! This is basically the Thanksgiving superfood in my book), and somewhat surprisingly, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. I’ll throw in a caveat on those last two because I think those really depend on how they’re prepared.
  • Whole Foods recommends focusing on veggies and whole grains, taking just a spoonful/slice of everything (bonus points: you get to try everything), and taking a smaller plate so you trick your eyes and brain into thinking you’ve eaten more than you actually have.

There’s more to it than what you eat (or don’t eat) – you should make it an active holiday season too. Take advantage of this unseasonable heat wave we’re having in Michigan if you’re staying local and see if there is a turkey trot in your vicinity. Detroit has a 10K, 5K, and Mashed Potato Mile – something for everyone! You can find a range of activities in whatever area you’ll happen to be in at

If you have sources to recommend (more recipes, more eating suggestions, activity ideas, you name it!) feel free to add them in the comments section or send me an update and I’ll include them in future posts, or as an amendment to this one.

For the holidays, the THL News Blog will be on a brief hiatus on Thursday, November 22 and Friday, November 23rd. We’ll return with regularly scheduled blogging on Monday, November 25th.

Have a happy Thanksgiving readers!

Are you likely to respond to exercise?

From the New York Times:

Research has confirmed that people’s physiological responses to exercise vary wildly. Now a new genetic test promises to tell you whether you are likely to benefit aerobically from exercise. The science behind the test is promising, but is this information any of us really needs to know?

The new test, which is being sold by a British company called XRGenomics, is available to anyone through the company’s Web site and involves rubbing inside your cheek with a supplied swab and returning the tissue sample to the company. Results are then available within a few weeks. It is based on a body of research led by James Timmons, a professor of systems biology at Loughborough University in England, and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and other institutions.

That original research, published in a landmark 2010 study, looked into the genetics of why some people respond to endurance exercise so robustly, while others do not. Some lucky men and women take up jogging, for example, and quickly become much more aerobically fit. Others complete the same program and develop little if any additional endurance, as measured by increases in their VO12 max, or their body’s ability to consume and distribute oxygen to laboring muscles.

For the 2010 study, Dr. Timmons and his colleagues genotyped muscle tissue from several groups of volunteers who had completed 6 to 20 weeks of endurance training. They found that about 30 variations in how genes were expressed had a significant effect on how fit people became. The new test looks for those genetic markers in people’s DNA.

“The idea is to help people to understand why” they might be progressing more slowly in an exercise program than their training partners are, says Dr. Timmons, one of the founders of XRGenomics.

Read the complete story here.


Happiness > Health (Motivationally Speaking, That Is)

According to a new article (based on a few studies) from my favorite health blog, people are more inclined to stick to exercise regimens if they are perceived to contribute to direct, immediate benefits – such as increased happiness – rather than a long-term future goal, such as better health.

Taking a marketing-like approach to exercise may be the key. To encourage sustained exercise, doctors (or whoever, really) should try to appeal to the “the emotional hooks that make it essential for people to fit it into their hectic lives.” 

“Yoga at the Farmer’s Market” © Ali Emanov 2011 CC BY-NC 2.0

A 2012 study from an interdisciplinary team at the University of Michigan was also cited in the New York Times Well Blog article (go blue!), indicating that gender and age all have impacts on the motivations for continued exercise. For instance,

“those of college age, for example, physical attractiveness typically heads the list of reasons to begin exercising, although what keeps them going seems to be the stress relief that a regular exercise program provides. The elderly, on the other hand, may get started because of health concerns. But often what keeps them exercising are the friendships, sense of community and camaraderie”

Dr. Segar, the lead author of the above study from the U of M Institute for Research on Women and Gender, put it simply: “What sustains us, we sustain.”

Too hot to exercise?

I’m relatively new to the fair state of Michigan – so when our temperatures began to spike into their summer levels several weeks ago, I didn’t think too much of it – par for the course in places with actual seasons, right?

Then I tried running outside.

I’m a fairly avid runner, and I used to run outside on a regular basis without ever really having to think about humidity. Running in this heat (especially the sort we’re having these few days) can be incredibly challenging. I thought it was just my body’s inability to adapt to a new environment, but there’s more to it.

According to a recent Reuter’s article, it may sometimes be too hot to work out outside – which is sad given all the locations I garnered for just that in an earlier post.

Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise explains, “with humidity the environment is not conducive to [sweat] evaporation, so the body stores more heat, the core temperature goes up, and your physical performance in negatively impacted.”

How does that concretely translate for those of us who are wary of stuffy basement gyms? Dr. Bryant had some guidelines:

  • Temperature 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below and humidity levels below 50% = comfortable to exercise outside
  • Temperature 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity levels 60% or above = exercise should probably be indoors

What’s more – it takes your body time to adapt to the new weather, anywhere between 10 and 14 days. This adaptation period is honestly something I’d never heard of – I suppose ignorance is the price I paid for living in a place with no seasons most of my life.

Be smart about your workouts and exercise safely!