Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Archive for July, 2013

Reason #43, Why I Like The Internet.

Last night, a friend and I were talking about the longest lived person, and when I googled it, to see what the longest verified life span was, I stumbled across a really cool site, The Blue Zones. For the uninitiated:

In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better.  In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States.  They found the extra 10 years that we’re missing.

If you go to the website, you will see this has morphed into a book with plans, quizzes and advice on taking the clues we’ve gotten from these blue zones and turning them into action in your own life.

This plays into my belief (hope) that actions speak louder than genes, since I was dealt a bad deck genetically.  My obsession with fitness grew out of desires to outlive my short-lived ancestors, and to not spend the last years of my life in ill health. The more I read about fitness, the more I believe much of it is in our control, but that it takes effort and planning to achieve that control. For example, if you adore red meat, you may have to decide which you prefer, a long lifespan or lots of red meat. In other words, there is a cost to pay. In my mind, it is such a small one as to be negligible. However, seeing how people around me live and react, I can see that for many people it is far greater than I imagine.  I can’t see how desiring certain foods can outweigh the urge to have a long, healthy life, but it is so. I’ve talked to people who flat out tell me they would rather die young than give up certain foods, or eat others.

In any case, there are like minded people out there, digging deeply into the questions that interest me and, thanks to the internet, I can find out about it and read what they come up with.  I’m not saying that everything on that website is true, correlation does not equal causation, but it does seem to agree with other research out there. Check it out, decide for yourself, and share your conclusions with me.

Is Sugar the Enemy?


I just read a great article,” Is Sugar Really Toxic? “, published by Scientific America. I really enjoy articles that are thoughtful and take the time to really explore a subject, and this one delivered. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, I’ll give some of the high lights.

  • Some of the studies vilifying fructose have proven to be flawed upon deeper study.
  • Fructose when not consumed with other sugar molecules can be deeply detrimental, although not as bad as first thought. We do not process fructose the way rats do.
  • Most foods have fructose in combination with other sugar molecules.
  • The sugars in natural foods are packaged with fiber and other things, making the “sugar hit” your body gets much less than processed foods.
  • Eliminating sugar without addressing other aspects of the diet does little to affect weight.

Most of you know, I am anti white sugar and flour. That is an easy, no-brainer way to reduce your consumption of processed food. Reducing or eliminating processed food in your diet is an almost fool-proof way to lose weight and get healthy. However, like this article points out, sugar is not poisonous, especially as it occurs in plants naturally. If you are avoiding fruit because it contains fructose, read this article.


Mere Christianity

a beautiful, blue tinged early morning lake scene

shhhh- don’t spoil it.

We went camping last weekend at Allegany. I took the opportunity of safe, largely car free roads to do an evening bike ride. As I was peddling along, enjoying the breathtaking view, I grew very philosophical. I was thinking how this was the closest I could get to experiencing the sacred. There is something about both ends of the day that are completely unlike the rest of it. The quiet hush, the muted light, the feeling of quiet expectancy, are unique to dawn and dusk. They are more awesome, when experienced in nature, than anything else I can think of.

When the bible talks about “the holiest of holies”, I think of this. I do see the most holy in nature, in those moments that so impress us. I thought about church, and how it is asked of us to not refrain from meeting together. The reasons for church are legion (pun intended), from support and comfort, to accountability, but I don’t find that most sacred feeling around other people.

To me, our highest expressions of Christian life are like really bad crayon drawings of holiness. I thought of this while looking at the breathtaking beauty in front of me, and how well or badly it can be depicted in paint on canvas. The greatest painters of the world, can only evoke memories of beauty like this, not truly capture it. Most painters only embarrass themselves and us, with rude attempts. I thought that a good analogy of our attempts at a Christ-like life. Have you ever seen a poor attempt at a water-color sunset? It just looks sad. In the past, Christianity has gotten a bad rap for many things, but we are just attempting to capture what so few can. We see it, we experience it, we want so much to share what is so beautiful with others, but our attempts are clumsy and amateurish.

Maybe some people will see this as another criticism of Christianity. I don’t mean it that way, I only mean to express what I see as the gap between us and God, between our mundane daily life and the beauty which is around us, in us, yet always a bit out of reach.

Statistics and Lies

Mark Twain did not care much for statistics, he said:

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.


There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

I have reason to agree, when simple curiosity drove me to do some quick research. Every time there is an article on health, I read it. The one that caught my eye today was one on Yahoo that another country beat out the United States as the fattest country. The main thrust of the article was that Mexico now has a greater proportion of obese people than the U.S. .This made me think about the link between obesity and heart disease, wondering where Mexico and the United States fall in the ratings of heart disease, so I went looking for statistics on heart disease to see what sort of correlation there was. That is where things got interesting. I googled it and clicked on the first two links. Both claimed to use the latest sources, both cited WHO, the World Health Organization, and yet they don’t have the same information. Part of this could be what filters they use, and that is part of the problem with statistics, they are endlessly maniple. The first site I went to worldlifeexpentancy.com, listed Turkmenistan as the number one country for coronary heart deaths, and Slovakia was way down on the list. The second site, nationmaster.com, listed Slovakia first, and Turkmenistan wasn’t even on their list. The initial article said that Japan was the slimmest country, and it was way down on both lists for heart disease, but not at the same point, and the number of deaths per million differed on the two lists.

I went to WHO’s website to try to find their original source, but either they don’t put it up there, or you can’t find it with a search engine. The closest I could get was a listing of CVD and diabetes. If anyone has a link to it, please put it in the comments, I would be interested.

Getting back to my original article, it raises some interesting points about the interpretation of facts:

According to a new report from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the United States is no longer the world’s fattest developed nation―Mexico is.

The key word here is developed. Take that out, and you go from Mexico’s 32 % to :

The world’s fattest nation overall is Nauru, a South Pacific island where a staggering 71.1 percent of its 10,000 inhabitants are obese.

The U.N. report does not include data for American Samoa, which has been tabbed in the past as the world’s fattest country. According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, nearly all of that Pacific island’s inhabitants (95 percent) are considered overweight.

So one world makes a word of difference in what we are talking about. To quote Mark Twain again, “it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”. There are many points to be made from this little exercise.

  • People are doing their best to study health and fitness, the shifting recommendations come from a variety of factors. A lot of smart people are spending a lot of time gathering data, and trying to come up with study designs that compensate for the flaws of previous ones.
  • After we’ve collected the data, It has to be analyzed, and that is fraught with hazards. That is where bias can wreak havoc.
  • Every word can count. What factors are included/excluded from the study?
  • News reporters just read the summaries, they don’t sift through the data to see if the summary is justified. A study might show a weak correlation between two things, and the news article may read “A causes B!”
  • Heart disease is affected by a lot more than just weight. The top countries for heart disease have high rates of smoking, and less health care.
  • The furthur you get from primary sources, the more corrupted the data.

It is hard to when the information changes over time, and it will. I don’t want anyone to get discouraged, just don’t put all your faith in one study, or get cynical when a study gets discredited.  It takes a whole lot of research to get any kind of picture of what is really going on.

Many of you may have heard about the link between omega 3’s and prostate cancer. The whole fish oil craze started with studying people who ate high amounts of cold water fish, and their lower risk of heart disease. They then took the fish into the laboratory to see what aspect of it was causing this. Once the oil was isolated, we then started to put it in a pill, for those who don’t like fish. We can’t study every aspect at once, so the prostate link wasn’t found right away. We are starting to see that even if there is one active compound in a food, it doesn’t seem to have the same effect once isolated that it appeared to have in the food.

The last point I’d like to make on this is that we will all die of something, at some point. All we can do is try to improve the quality of life until the end. No food will extend your life to extreme levels, and there are a variety of factors that influence health and life expectancy. Pills are not magic, and they all have side effects. You are far better off eating the best you can and not worrying about the rest. By the way, if you read that  link to the 2010 WHO report inside the quote I put in this article, it will dispell any doubts you may have about the link between diet and life expectancy.

Geocaching and the Fitbit-a Perfect Fit.

the fitbit bracelet

cute little thing

My son recently bought me the Fitbit for Mother’s day. I really love it. It works with MyFitnessPal, so I don’t have to learn some new calorie tracking software, and it does work with others, but I don’t use anything else, so I can”t comment on that. What I will tell you is that having a goal always there in front of you makes you more aware of it and eager to go. If it’s 3:00pm, and I see I’m no where close to my goal of 10,000 steps, I’ll be the one volunteering to run errands. If I do log my eating on MyFitnessPal, and I see I’m at or close to my calorie goal, I’ll turn down desert. Just knowing you have to log something, or in the case of the fitbit, it will automatically be logged for you, will change your behavior.

a snapshot of the fitbit screen, showing how many steps and miles

on your phone, you can check how you are doing as the day progresses.

You can track what you are doing on your smart phone, seeing your progress as the day goes on. You can also see it on your computer, which will give you more information.

computer screen snapshot, showing the same information as the phone.

computer screen snapshot, showing the same information as the phone.

I do realize all of this can get a bit obsessive, but if you are having trouble losing weight, or just want to see how things really stack up in your life, this is a great tool.For instance, I always tell people if you want to lose weight, don’t eat out. Well, this confirmed it. Every time I ate out, I went way over my calories for the day, and I have it set for maintainence, so if I was trying to lose weight, it would be hopeless.

Just to warn you though, it is a bit buggy. It can log your sleep, but I found if I don’t hit “log sleep” on my phone, it is wildly inaccurate. It doesn’t always update quickly, and if you don’t have internet, it can’t work with your phone, even though it is bluetooth enabled. Also, I briefly tried their calorie tracking software, and didn’t like it. That could be just a case of familiarity. I’ve used my fitness pal before and like it.

And Geocaching fits in how?

So one of the main measures the Fitbit uses is how many steps you take. Geocaching is treasure hunting using either a gps or your phone to find little objects other people hid. Obviously, you have to walk to find them, and so they fit hand in hand. I spent the weekend Geocaching with a friend of mine who taught me about it, and who is an avid geocacher. I wouldn’t post a blog article about it, except that I tried out the phone software and was extremely impressed. In the past, you had to have a gps, which made it a more exclusive pastime. You had decide ahead of time if you liked it enough to buy a device, and then learn the device at the same time you were learning geocaching, making it the kind of hobby you would only get into if someone mentored you, or if you were really determined. Now with the phone version, every one with a smart phone can do it.  I downloaded the free trial version and took another friend out. We just tried it on some new local caches. She had my gps, and I had the phone. I would say they worked equally as well.

I wanted to show you what the screen shots looked like, but then I realized there was no way to show you without publishing my location blatently! While I’m fond of many of you, that is oversharing on a major scale.

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