I hope all of you in areas affected by the winter storm are staying warm and safe.

We had snow in our part of Tennessee, but nothing like what landed in areas north and east of us.  Our driveway is impassable for now, but we knew that was coming and made plans to stay put.

Here’s a quick look at a snowy weekend on the farm.  Some work, some play.

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Interesting items from my inbox, real life, and elsewhere …

Snake Handler, Part Two

Chareva walked into my office at home yesterday and told me there was a snake in her bedroom closet, and she didn’t feel like being brave about it. (You probably recall what happened last time, when she was brave about it.)

So I strapped on my six-shooters and prepared to go rescue my lady from distress, like a good cowboy. Well, okay, I actually grabbed a snake-catching contraption Chareva’s mom had sent to us after the last incident. Either way, I was ready to demonstrate my manliness by man-handling a huge, slithering snake.

Jeez, what a disappointment:

Chareva handles the big snake and gets on national TV as a result, while I get to toss out a glorified worm.  Sheesh.

FitBit Not Fit

I guess there’s a reason people are upset enough with FitBit to sue.  Mine seemed to work well at first — I checked it against my actual pulse and the reading was accurate.  Then it didn’t work so well.  I’d be working out, and according to my FitBit, my pulse would drop from 119 to 66 in mere seconds.  Or I’d tap the screen for a reading and get nothing at all on the heart monitor.  Then the clock started showing 15 minutes behind real time, even after I synced it to a PC that showed the correct time.

So I sent it back.  I’m now sporting a Garmin Forerunner 225, which appears to be accurate — no sudden drop in pulse rate while riding the bike, and I don’t have to tap the face for a reading.  I also like the larger display.  It costs twice as much as a FitBit, but apparently this is a case of you get what you pay for.

Tom Brady’s “Bizarre” Diet

New England quarterback Tom Brady has played in six Super Bowls and won four of them. He may be on his way to another, although I’m hoping Peyton Manning gets another shot this year instead of Brady.

Anyway, a CBS Sports article appeared recently describing what Brady (still at the top of his game at age 38) eats:

On Monday, Brady’s personal chef, Allen Campbell, gave us all a glimpse into Brady’s healthy lifestyle.

“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. … I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.

[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy.

The kids eat fruit. Tom, not so much. He will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits.”

A little later in the interview, Campbell also noted that they “stick to gluten free for everything.”

So then, what does Brady eat? The answer appears to be vegetables and lean meat.

“So, 80 percent of what they eat is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.”

Hmmm … no sugar, no white flour, no diary, no MSG, and the chef only cooks with coconut oil. No canola oil. Easy on the fruit. Gluten free. Lots of organic vegetables, plus grass-fed steak.

Yeah, that’s bizarre, all right. Hasn’t Brady’s chef heard about the newest USDA Dietary Guidelines? They’re “science-based” ya see, so I think Brady should follow them.

Then again, I did mention I want Manning to win the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Glenn Fry is Already Gone

Man, I loved the Eagles when I was a teen. I still listen to them frequently. When I was in a band, we played several of their songs in our set. There were four us, we all enjoyed singing, so we gravitated towards songs with vocal harmonies. Can’t get much better than the Eagles for songs with lovely harmonies.

Along with millions of other fans, I was so sorry to learn that Glenn Fry, one of the band’s founders and songwriters, died this week at age 67. May he rest with a Peaceful Easy Feeling.

I don’t know what Glenn Fry ate, but according to his manager, the drugs he took for rheumatoid arthritis probably contributed to his death:

Eagles singer Glenn Frey’s death is being blamed partly on the drugs he took to combat rheumatoid arthritis: While used to treat thousands of American sufferers, the medicine can leave them vulnerable to serious infections, experts say.

Many of the medications that treat the autoimmune disease, which affects around 1.3 million Americans, come with a slew of possible side effects, from heart failure to tuberculosis.

That’s because some of the most effective treatments, known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), work to suppress patients’ overactive immune systems, which can make them vulnerable to infection.

Frey died Monday at age 67 from pneumonia and colitis, as well as the long-lasting effects of the arthritis on his body, his manager, Irving Azoff, told the website The Wrap.

Azoff added that the pneumonia he contracted was a side effect “from all the meds.”

Like I said, I don’t know what Glenn Fry ate. But I will mention that Loren Cordain was once quoted in a WebMD article as saying he believes cereal grains may trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Some months ago, Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis posted about a woman whose rheumatoid arthritis diminished when she went wheat-free:

Carol is thinner, yes, but has also reversed the autoimmune damage to joints. This happens because she has removed the initial trigger for autoimmunity, the gliadin protein of wheat. She has also removed the abnormally increased intestinal permeability permitted by the gliadin that allows bacterial components such as lipopolysaccharide to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation. She has also removed the exceptionally inflammatory protein, wheat germ agglutinin. It all adds up to dramatic reversal of autoimmune inflammation.

Sticking to a wheat-free or paleo or “bizarre” Brady diet isn’t just about avoiding illnesses. It’s also about avoiding the nasty drugs used to treat the illnesses.

And speaking of bizarre diets …

The “Power of the Vegan Voice” goes after a burger restaurant

Q: How many vegans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: That’s NOT FUNNY, you @#$%ing MURDERER!!

In case you need more proof that vegans are by a large a humorless lot, check out this article on a U.K. vegan website:

Our message of compassion goes a long way, especially when heard in large numbers. Gourmet Burger Kitchen found this out the hard way over the weekend, when complaints came flooding in for their latest ad campaign, forcing them to backtrack and pull the ads after just two days.

One of GBK’s three ads seen across London showed a picture of a young cow together with the caption: ‘They eat grass so you don’t have to.’ Another read: ‘You always remember the time you gave up being vegetarian’, with a third depicting one of their burgers, with the caption ‘Vegetarians, resistance is futile’.

Now, if you choose not to eat meat but your body still contains a funny bone, you respond to those ads by chuckling and getting on with your meatless life.  Heck, I laughed out loud at this ad and didn’t feel the last bit insulted or threatened:

I didn’t feel threatened because I have a sense of humor. Not so in the case of our vegan pals:

GBK were inundated with complaints, as were the Advertising Standards Agency. The burger chain was accused, among other things, of picking on a minority group. Indeed, they appeared to be as unaware of the legal status of Veganism as a protected belief under equality laws as they were about the size and strength of the vegan community.

Picking on a minority group … a protected belief under equality laws.

Yeah, because if you poke fun at vegans in an ad, that’s just like refusing to allow African-Americans into the local public school, doncha know.

Good grief, the weenification campaign is apparently world-wide.  Millions of people are now convinced that if they’re offended, Something Very Very Bad has happened to them, and it must be stopped.

We’ve got college students demanding a “safe space” where no one is allowed to disagree with their beliefs (no matter how illogical), students demanding “trigger warnings” about books containing words or passages that may offend them, and there’s even a movement in some loony-leftie circles to repeal the First Amendment because …well, you know, it allows people to say things that other people find offensive!

Time to change the saying we used to teach kids:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will send me running to a therapist with deep psychological wounds that need healing … because I’m a weenie.

Here’s the problem with all these campaigns to stamp out “offensive” books, ads, speeches, or whatever: who exactly gets to decide what is or isn’t “offensive”? Why, the weenies themselves, of course.

After demanding an ad campaign they found offensive be yanked, the vegans replied with an ad of their own … which I’m sure some people would find offensive:

Since I’m not a weenie and have a sense of humor, I would never demand they take it down from their site. The right to speak must by definition include the right to say things others find offensive — after all, speech that offends no one doesn’t need protecting.  So for a reply, I had the Photoshop wiz I married put together an ad of our own:

Enjoy your weekend. Looks like we’ll be snowed in temporarily in Tennessee, so I expect I may have to remove more snakes looking for a warm place to sleep.

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As you probably know, the USDA released its newest dietary guidelines last week. Here’s what Medscape online had to say:

Watch your sugar, use caution with the salt shaker, and limit those saturated fats.

That’s the advice from the updated U.S. nutritional guidelines, released Thursday by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines are published every 5 years and aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence about what we eat.

If the guidelines aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence, then the committee members have a lousy aim. Several recent studies have concluded that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, and yet the USDA still tells us to restrict saturated fat. The committee also tells us to restrict salt, even though a study commissioned by the Centers For Disease Control concluded that following those guidelines isn’t necessary and might even be harmful.

“Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to take control of our own health,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “There are many ways to stay healthy, but nutrition will always be at the foundation of good health.”

That’s true. Too bad we have the USDA telling people what to eat. I seem to recall that Americans were leaner and healthier before the USDA got involved.

While some groups like the American Medical Association praise and support the guidelines, critics say the recommendations don’t go far enough — and they’ve accused the government of playing politics with Americans’ health.

“It really is a betrayal of science to politics,” says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, a federally funded program that studies how changes to lifestyle can prevent disease. “Public health, which means the lives of real people, is being thrown under the political bus.”

I agree with Dr. Katz that the USDA guidelines have little to do with real science – but then neither do the guidelines developed by Dr. Katz. As you may or may not recall, Katz is the goofball behind a nutrition-rating system called NuVal.  I wrote about it back in 2010.  You can read that post, but here’s all you really need to know: according to Katz, these are excellent choices:

Shredded Wheat
Chocolate Soy Milk (30 grams of sugar)

And these are lousy choices:

Chicken breast
Turkey breast
Ham
Coconuts

Frankly, I’m amazed media reporters are still running to Dr. Katz for (ahem) “expert” commentary. Once a guy’s proved himself a fraud, that ought to disqualify him – and yes, Katz proved himself a fraud awhile back. He wrote glowing reviews of his own book reVision, which he published under a pseudonym. Here’s a quote from the Yale Daily News:

In February 2014, David Katz MPH ’93, the director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center, wrote two glowing online reviews of a science-fiction novel called reVision.

In his biweekly column in The Huffington Post, Katz lauded the book’s “lyrically beautiful writing,” comparing it to the work of a veritable “who’s who” of great writers, including Plato, John Milton and Charles Dickens. “I finished with a sense of illumination from a great source,” he concluded. “The most opportune comparison may be to a fine wine.” Katz had used similar language two days earlier in a five-star product review he posted on the book’s page on Amazon.

When a guy 1) writes a review of his own book without explaining that it’s his own book and 2) compares himself to Plato, Milton and Dickens, it’s pretty obvious we’re talking a giant egomaniac.

Katz said the reviews conveyed his honest opinion and that he concealed the true authorship of reVision because he preferred to keep his professional life separate from his fiction writing.

Ahh, I see. It’s your honest opinion that you’re in the same league as Plato, Milton and Dickens. Well, sheeoot, that makes it okay, then … although here’s a alternate suggestion for keeping your professional life separate from your fiction writing: go ahead and write your novels under pseudonym – but then don’t write glowing reviews under your real name. That way, you won’t look like a giant egomaniac (and a bit of a moron).  Either way, I kind of doubt literature majors of the future will be mentioning Plato, Milton, Dickens and Katz in the same sentence.

Anyway, Katz is apparently upset that the guidelines didn’t place specific limits on eating meat.  (Remember, we’re talking about a guy who thinks chocolate soy milk is health food, but turkey and chicken will kill you.)

The guidance does recommend we eat lean meats and poultry, and it notes that eating less meat, including processed meat and processed poultry, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But it doesn’t offer specific instructions or limits around red and processed meats. Choices can include processed meats and processed poultry, as long as eating patterns stay within the limits for sodium, saturated fats, added sugar, and calories recommended by the new guidelines.

“The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive,” says Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society. “By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.”

The “science” on the link between cancer and diet may be extensive, but it’s also mostly garbage.  People who want to blame meat (a food humans have been eating forever) for causing cancer (a “disease of civilization” that was exceedingly rare among hunter-gatherers) simply cherry-pick the observational studies where a link exists, no matter how weak it is.  There are plenty of observational studies that don’t show a link.  There are even studies where rates of colon cancer go up as people eat meat, then go down again as they eat even more meat.  I wrote about those here.

Well, never mind those studies.  Katz is still convinced them (ahem) “science” linking meat to cancer was ignored:

“This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America,” he [Katz] writes. “It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.” In a social media post, he calls the guidelines “a national embarrassment.”

As embarrassing as being caught reviewing your own novel and comparing yourself to Plato, Milton and Dickens?

There was one significant change in the USDA guidelines:

For the first time, the 2015 guidelines tackle added sugars, recommending they make up less than 10% of Americans’ diets. Those do not include naturally-occurring sugars, like those in milk or fruit.

Stop for a moment and let that one sink in. The USDA has been producing these guidelines every five years since 1980. And yet this is the first time they’ve ever recommended restricting added sugars. All those years, yammering on and on about cutting back on red meat, fat and cholesterol, but sugar got a pass.  Meanwhile, rates of type diabetes skyrocketed in America … even among kids.

This is also the first time the committee FINALLY admitted they got it wrong about dietary cholesterol, which they now say isn’t a “nutrient of concern.” So at this rate, I suppose they’ll admit they got it wrong about artercloggingsaturatedfat! in the 2050 guidelines. But for now, they still recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories … which happens to be the same limit they put on added sugars. So in the minds of committee, added sugars and naturally occurring saturated fats are equally dangerous.  Yeah, that’s science-based stuff there.

I believe Nina Teicholz, author of the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, summed up the new guidelines pretty well:

With the exception of a cap on sugar, these DGAs are virtually identical to those of the past 35 years, during which time obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. Given the same advice, it’s not clear why we should expect different outcomes, especially when consumption data shows that over the past decades, Americans have, in fact, followed USDA advice, cutting back on butter by 14%, whole milk by 73%, and red meat by 17%, while increasing consumption of grains by 41% and oils by more than 90%.

Due to high-level concern about the failure of our nutrition policy to improve health, Congress recently mandated the first-ever peer review of the Guidelines, by the National Academy of Medicine. This is a critical first step towards ensuring that our nation’s policy is indeed based on rigorous science.

I have one minor disagreement with Teicholz: I’m not convinced mandatory peer review will make much of a difference.  A better first step (and last step) would be to get the USDA out of the nutrition-advice business completely.  After all, we’re talking about a federal government that has demonstrated over and over that it possesses something akin to a reverse Midas touch:  nearly everything it touches turns into @#$%.

These guidelines are no exception.

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It just so happens that some videos caught my attention, so I thought I’d share.  The first one is a TedEd video about simple and complex carbohydrates created by Dr. Richard Wood, director of the Center for Wellness Education and Research at Springfield College in Massachusetts.  (In my speech on diet and the Wisdom of Crowds, he’s the guy introducing me.)

Very nice.  Short and sweet — pardon the pun.

The second is part of an interview Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt conducted with me on last year’s cruise.  As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Eenfeldt is now dedicated to educating people about diet and health full-time.  He closed his medical practice and has a production team cranking out lots of excellent material.

You can watch the video here.  If you join Dr. Eenfeldt’s site, you’ll also have access to all the videos and materials his team produces, including the full version of our interview.

The last video didn’t exactly catch my attention, because I created it.  At the end of each year, I put together a family DVD.  This is the video that shows our big spring project and trying to rustle the hogs.

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I’ve written several posts with a variation on the title Bad News For Statins. Those have mostly pointed out the nasty side effects of statins. Doctors who push statins usually dismiss those side effects as a small price to avoid a heart attack – which they insist statins help us do.

But what if statins actually harm our hearts instead of protecting them? That’s what new research says they do. Let’s start by looking at some quotes from an article in the U.K. Express:

People taking the drugs are more likely to suffer from hardening of the arteries, a leading cause of heart problems. In addition, researchers found the drugs block a process that protects the heart. This can “cause, or worsen, heart failure”, according to a study.

Dr Okuyama, of Nagoya City University, Japan, said: “We have collected a wealth of information on cholesterol and statins from many published papers and find overwhelming evidence that these drugs accelerate hardening of the arteries and can cause, or worsen, heart failure. I cannot find any evidence to support people taking statins and patients who are on them should stop.”

But wait … haven’t there been big ol’ studies demonstrating that statins prevent heart attacks? Well, yes, there were some of those — conducted and reported many years ago by the statin-makers. The current study’s lead researcher believes that was a wee bit of a problem:

Dr Okuyama and his team say many earlier industry-sponsored studies, which show the benefits of statins, are unreliable. They claim this is because they were carried out before new European regulations were introduced in 2004 which insisted on all trial findings, both negative and positive, being declared.

The study states that before these new rules came into effect “unfair and unethical problems were associated with clinical trials reported by industry-supported scientists”.

Dr Okuyama’s team looked at studies before and after 2004.

So they compared both old and new studies, since statin-makers are no longer allowed to just bury the results they don’t like. Here’s what Dr. Okuyama’s group concluded in their analysis:

The researchers say the hypothesis that statins protect the heart by lowering cholesterol is flawed and that high cholesterol is not necessarily linked to heart disease.

They also found statins have a negative effect on vital body processes linked to heart health.

They discovered patients taking the drugs were more likely to have calcium deposits in their arteries, a phenomenon directly linked to heart attacks.

Dr Peter Langsjoen, a heart specialist based in Texas who is co-author of the study, said: “Statins are being used so aggressively and in such large numbers of people that the adverse effects are now becoming obvious. These drugs should never have been approved for use. The long-term effects are devastating.”

Meanwhile, the American Heart Association is (of course) still pushing new guidelines that would make even more people eligible for statins. Here are some quotes from a Medscape article I linked in a post about those guidelines back in 2014:

The new American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for the treatment of cholesterol would increase the number of individuals eligible for statin therapy by nearly 13 million people, an increase that is largely driven by older patients and treating individuals without cardiovascular disease, according to a new analysis.

Among older adults, those aged 60 to 75 years old, 87.4% of men would now be eligible for the lipid-lowering medication, which is up from one-third under the old Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III guidelines. For women of the same age, the percentage of those now eligible for statins would increase from 21.2% under ATP III to 53.6% with the new 2013 clinical guidelines.

So those guidelines would double the number of women over 60 taking statins and nearly triple the number of men in the same age group. Yup, just what the old folks need: more muscle and joint problems, higher blood sugar, and (if the new study is correct), accelerated hardening of their arteries. Way to go, American Heart Association.

A reader who sent me the link to the U.K. Express article commented in his email, Even after being destroyed with factual information, The Anointed reject what’s best and continue their destructive ways. Just what will make these people change their minds?

The answer is: nothing. Remember, part of what makes them The Anointed is the inability to believe they’re ever wrong. A couple of them are quoted, in fact, in the Express article:

A spokesman for the MHRA, the Government drug regulator, said: “The benefits of statins are well established and are considered to outweigh the risk of side effects in the majority of patients. Any new significant information on the efficacy of statins will be carefully reviewed and action be taken if required”.

Translation: we’ll pretend this study doesn’t exist and go on our merry, statin-pushing way.

Oxford professor Sir Rory Collins has warned that overstating concerns about statins could “cause very large numbers of unnecessary deaths from heart attacks and stroke”.

Oh, I don’t think it’s necessary for us to overstate the concerns about statins, Sir Rory. Merely pointing out the facts should convince intelligent people to stop taking these horrible drugs. Then they’ll avoid very large numbers of unnecessary cases of diabetes, liver damage, muscle damage, joint damage, and memory loss.

I dug up the abstract of the study, and for once, there was a link to a free copy of the full text online. Lots of good stuff in there, but I’ll just quote the paragraphs that wrap it all up:

Pharmacological evidence and clinical trial results support the interpretation that statins stimulate atherogenesis by suppressing vitamin K2 synthesis and thereby enhancing artery calcification. Statins cause heart failure by depleting the myocardium of CoQ10, ‘heme A’ and selenoproteins, thereby impairing mitochondrial ATP production. In summary, statins are not only ineffective in preventing CHD events but instead are capable of increasing CHD and heart failure.

Physicians who are involved in prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications cannot ignore the moral responsibility of ‘informed consent’. Patients must be informed of all statin adverse effects, including the ability to cause CHD and heart failure, onset of diabetes mellitus, carcinogenicity, teratogenicity and central and peripheral nervous disorders besides the well-known rhabdomyolysis and hepatic injury. Most of these adverse effects of statins become apparent after 6 or more years of statin therapy. Chronic administration could ultimately lead to these statin adverse effects as pharmaceutical and biochemical research has now demonstrated.

I’d suggest you give the study a look. Better yet, send it to your statin-taking friends and relatives. You might just save them a world of hurt.

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You’ve pretty much got to like a book when one of the main pieces of advice it offers is to slow down. Of course, that assumes you need to slow down – perhaps not a problem for most of us. If you’re already inert, you’d have to take up cycling or jogging and go too fast before “slow down!” would apply.

But slowing down is exactly what some people need to do. I’ve recounted this story again, but it bears repeating: on one of the low-carb cruises, a woman complained to Fred Hahn that she was overweight despite getting up at the crack of dawn several days per week to go running for an hour. Fred explained that she was exercising too much and sleeping too little. As a result, she was almost certainly cranking out stress hormones, and stress hormones can make us fat.

“But what should I do to lose weight if I don’t go running?” she asked.

“Take a nap!” Fred replied.

I could see the resistance in her expression.  This can’t be right.  Dangit, if you’re willing to wake up at dawn and horsewhip yourself into running for an hour before heading off to a full-time job, there ought to be a reward. It’s only fair.

But our bodies don’t operate on fairness. They operate on biochemistry, and the lack of sleep and chronic over-training were creating a biochemical mess for the devoted runner. Fortunately, she eventually learned the lesson. Several months after the cruise, she wrote a thank-you note on Facebook, telling Fred she adopted his advice and cut back on running to get more sleep … and lost 20 pounds.

Now, I don’t know how many frustrated dieters are out there running too hard and too often. My guess is not very many – partly because so many of us have already been there, done that, and found it didn’t work. While going through some old VHS tapes awhile back, I found one that showed me returning from one of my regular jogging sessions – and I was quite noticeably fat.

My diet was crap in those days (although of course I thought all that whole-grain pasta with low-fat sauce was good for me), so that was certainly a big part of the problem. But I’m also pretty sure I was running myself straight into what Mark Sisson calls the Black Hole in his latest book.

The book is titled Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! Sisson co-wrote the book with Brad Kearns, who was a champion triathlete back in the day. Sisson, as you probably know, was also a champion runner and triathlete in his youth. Back then, he carb-loaded before races and over-trained. The health problems he experienced as a result prompted him to do the research that led to Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint (still one of the best all-around books on diet and health).

Primal Endurance opens with a nice summary titled 115 Things You Need to Know. It’s essentially most of the advice in the book, boiled down into short paragraphs. The introduction also explains why this book is necessary: too many people trying to get fit are going about it the wrong way, using training methods that are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. In other words, they’re pushing themselves into the Black Hole.

The what? What’s a Black Hole?

Glad you asked. Chapter One is titled Slow Down!, and it explains what the Black Hole is and why you need to avoid it. In a nutshell, the Black Hole is the zone between a proper aerobic workout that burns mostly fat and a high-intensity workout that burns mostly glucose. A brief high-intensity workout is fine – in fact, it’s beneficial. A long aerobic workout is also beneficial. But if you push that aerobic workout too hard and for too long, it’s no longer truly aerobic, and your body has to start cranking out glucose — and to do that, it has to raise your stress hormones. That’s where the trouble begins. To quote from the book:

A chronic approach will lead to poor competitive performance, lingering fatigue, suppressed immune function, persistent stiffness and soreness, increased injury risk, failed weight-loss efforts, and finally – when your fight-or-flight resources become exhausted from chronic stimulation – burnout.

And later:

Metabolically, chronic cardio workouts are slightly too strenuous to emphasize fat as a fuel source, and instead emphasize glucose burning. While this makes the workout more difficult and generates more fatigue and sugar cravings right afterward, the truly damaging effects of chronic workout patterns occur around the clock.

… If your goal is to perform well in endurance events, get leaner, be healthier, and delay the aging process, it’s quite possible that your training sessions are promoting the exact opposite results of your goals.

A lot of us have already heard about the detrimental effects of chronic cardio, so we don’t do cardio workouts at all. No jogging, no aerobics, no Zumba classes, etc. We do slow-burn workouts with weights and let it go at that.

Heh-heh-heh … turns out that’s another one of those beliefs that needs some re-visiting. According to Sisson and Kearns, aerobic exercise is great for health and fitness – in fact, it should form the base of your exercise program – but you have to do it correctly. You have to stay out of the Black Hole. That’s where the “Slow Down!” advice comes in.

Avoiding the Black Hole is actually simple, at least if you have a reliable way of checking your heart rate during exercise. You simply subtract your age from 180 to find your target heart rate. (There are suggestions in the book for adjusting the rate depending on other factors). Then you exercise at a pace that gets you near but not above the target rate.

Sisson and Kearns emphasize several times that you absolutely must monitor your heart rate if you want to avoid the Black Hole. You can’t just rely on how you feel.

You may still feel quite comfortable as you extend your effort well beyond aerobic maximum heart rate. Psychologically, you might even gain a greater sense of satisfaction that you are actually “getting a workout” because of your slightly labored breathing pattern, elevated perspiration, and elevated perceived exertion in the brain…. The black hole has been confirmed by numerous studies as the default landing area for people relying solely upon perceived exertion to govern intensity level.

I can attest to that. Before I even finished the book, I wanted to see what a proper aerobic workout feels like. After some research into various heart monitors, I ended up getting a Fitbit. I like it because if I double-tap the face, it displays my heart rate. (That requires choosing a particular setting in the software interface, by the way.)

So with the Fitbit on my wrist, I got on Chareva’s new bike and began peddling with a fair amount of resistance. A minute or so in, my heart rate was still below 100. Geez, I thought, my legs are working kinda hard here. I don’t know if I can keep this up for 30 minutes.

Then my heart rate began to climb. And climb. And climb. Next thing I knew, it was above 140. I had to slow down, then choose an easier gear with less resistance, then slow down again. I finally found a pace that kept my heart rate right around 120 – and yes, I had to pedal slower than I would have guessed.  Once I settled into the correct zone, it was an easy workout.

So why bother with aerobic workouts at all? The book names several benefits, but perhaps the biggest is triggering the process of building new mitochondria.

Exercise not only increases the size and number of mitochondria, but also makes them more efficient by increasing the number of oxidative enzymes found in mitochondria. These enzymes improve metabolic function of your skeletal muscles, boosting fat and carbohydrate breakdown for fuel, and speeding energy formation from ATP.

To reap all the benefits from proper aerobic exercise, however, we also have to burn the right fuels. Chapter Three is titled The Primal Blueprint Eating Strategy, and if you’ve read any of Sisson’s previous work, you can pretty much guess what kind of diet he recommends.

There are also chapters on adding strength training and sprints to the exercise program, although Sisson and Kearns urge the reader to spend a few weeks building an aerobic base first.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to start (or retool) an exercise program, this is an excellent guide to doing it right. Sisson’s books are popular largely because of the solid information he provides, but also because he’s a gifted writer who explains things simply and clearly. Primal Endurance, like his other books, passes what I call my Aunt Martha Test: if you gave a copy to your Aunt Martha, she could read it and understand it all without becoming confused or running for a medical dictionary.

As I explained in my previous post, this book happened to come along right when I decided I need to do more than just lift weights during the winter months. I’ve barely started the program, so I can’t yet say if it’s making a difference. I’ll give it few months and write a follow-up.

I hope the results are very good indeed … because if slowing down is what makes aerobic exercise actually beneficial, that would be welcome news to the millions of people who hop on treadmills in January and give up by April when it’s clear the rewards don’t match the effort.

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