Friday, April 15, 2011

Life Lessons from the New York Times Magazine

Planning to do some reading? This weekend's New York Times Magazine is jam-packed with healthy goodness.

The cover article by Gary Taubes (you know -- the author of "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and "Why We Get Fat") is about the eeeevils of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which we discussed a couple of days ago.

But wait -- there’s much, much more crammed into this little issue! For example:

Mark Bittman shows you how to make lamb -- and how to carve it in three cuts!

James Vlahos spells out exactly why you need to ditch your office chair!
Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.” 

Maggie Jones examines why we need to get more sleep!
Not surprisingly, those who had eight hours of sleep hardly had any attention lapses and no cognitive declines over the 14 days of the study. What was interesting was that those in the four- and six-hour groups had P.V.T. [psychomotor vigilance task] results that declined steadily with almost each passing day. Though the four-hour subjects performed far worse, the six-hour group also consistently fell off-task. By the sixth day, 25 percent of the six-hour group was falling asleep at the computer. And at the end of the study, they were lapsing fives times as much as they did the first day...
Americans average 6.9 hours on weeknights, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Which means that, whether we like it or not, we are not thinking as clearly as we could be.

And Gretchen Reynolds surveys a bunch of talking heads in order to find the BEST EXERCISE EVER.

Other than Taubes' piece, this article was the one that piqued my interest. According to the exercise physiologists interviewed, three movements -- all of which are familiar to any CrossFit enthusiast -- stand head and shoulders above the rest:

Burpees (a.k.a., the King of all Exercises):
Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Martin Gibala, the chairman of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
But when pressed, he suggested one of the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance.” He paused. “But it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying” an all-burpees program, “or sticking with it for long.”

“I nominate the squat,” said Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and an expert on the effects of resistance training on the human body. The squat “activates the body’s biggest muscles, those in the buttocks, back and legs.”
...The squat, and weight training in general, are particularly good at combating sarcopenia, he said, or the inevitable and debilitating loss of muscle mass that accompanies advancing age. “Each of us is experiencing sarcopenia right this minute,” he said. “We just don’t realize it.” Endurance exercise, he added, unlike resistance training, does little to slow the condition... Most physiologists believe that only endurance-exercise training can raise someone’s VO2max. But in small experiments, he said, weight training, by itself, effectively increased cardiovascular fitness.
“I used to run marathons,” he said. Now he mostly weight-trains, “and I’m in better shape.”

High-intensity interval training, or H.I.T. as it’s familiarly known among physiologists, is essentially all-interval exercise. As studied in Gibala’s lab, it involves grunting through a series of short, strenuous intervals on specialized stationary bicycles, known as Wingate ergometers. In his first experiments, riders completed 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, the volunteers repeated the interval several times, for a total of two to three minutes of extremely intense exercise. After two weeks, the H.I.T. riders, with less than 20 minutes of hard effort behind them, had increased their aerobic capacity as much as riders who had pedaled leisurely for more than 10 hours...
The only glaring inadequacy of H.I.T. is that it builds muscular strength less effectively than, say, the squat. But even that can be partially remedied, Gibala said: “Sprinting up stairs is a power workout and interval session simultaneously.”Meaning that running up steps just might be the single best exercise of all.
(What's your poison? Burpees, squats or intervals? Something else entirely?)

So what have we learned from just one issue of the New York Times Magazine?
  • Meat is tasty, but skip dessert. 
  • Sleep a lot. 
  • But when you’re up, don’t sit: Do burpees instead.
Sounds like a plan.