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Weighted vest exercise program can build hip bone mineral density

Mercury in Rice. What it means for you and for children.

Key points for Mercury in Rice:

Mercury from air pollution accumulates in rice

Mercury in rice may be high enough to harm brain development

Relying on rice as a staple food may be bad idea.

We know mercury is bad for you. It harms brain development and increases risk of heart disease. There is also evidence that it may increase risk of diabetes (Jeppesen et al. 2015).  It is especially bad for pregnant women, young infants and women who may become pregnant because of the harm it may do to their future children. Women and children (as well as men) are advised to limit the amount of mercury they eat by limiting intake of some kinds of fish.  Older, larger predators (swordfish, tuna) that eat high on the food chain are likely to have the most mercury. Younger, smaller fish have less time to build up mercury in their tissues.  They are thus less likely to pass it on to human consumers.   Fish, especially oily fish, has a lot of health benefits though.  Fish, or oil from fish, has been associated with reduced cardiovascular disease, less depression, and higher IQ. Regulators have tried to balance risk from mercury against some of the health benefits of fish.  That’s a tough one.  The best strategy seems to be to limit high-risk fish, and enjoy lower risk fish.

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Mercury in Rice: how it gets there

Mercury in rice starts with burning of coal, trash, and forest fires.  Mercury is released to air.  Mercury can travel the globe and is widely distributed.  The most dangerous form of mercury is methyl-mercury. This is mercury that has entered the environment and been transformed from elemental mercury to mercury with a methyl group on it.  The methyl group lets mercury lodge in fatty tissue, including the brain and other nervous tissue.  Methylation is done by bacteria in low-oxygen conditions.  The bacteria transform the mercury, small mud-dwellers pick it up.  The mud-dwellers get eaten by fish.  Which get eaten by larger fish. Which get eaten by us . . . where the mercury stays.  The bacteria that transform mercury are found on lake, river and ocean bottoms.  But these same bacteria are also found in rice paddies.  This mercury starts with air pollution, which settles in agricultural areas.  Sometimes far-away agricultural areas, but ends up in rice.   Scientists at the University of South Carolina and in China have been studying mercury in rice and its effects on children who do not eat fish (Rothenberg et al. 2016).  These are important studies because they show how mercury impacts children without the beneficial effects of fish confusing the picture. A strategy to reduce mercury exposure may be to reduce the amount of rice you eat.

Babies, Children and Mercury in Rice

So far the effects observed have been small, but measureable, declines in cognition. Or IQ to simplify things. It is important to note that the people studied live in China, and eat more rice than most Americans.  I asked the lead researcher, Susan Rothenberg, if American rice had less mercury than rice in China.  “unfortunately, American rice has similar levels of Mercury.”  So . . . it looks like buying local, or American rice, will not help.  Something that may be important is that rice is a staple food for babies. It is often the first solid food we feed our children.  One of the reasons we are advised to eat a varied diet is so that we will get a wide range of nutrients.  It can also be important to eat a varied diet so that you do not get too much of a particular contaminant like mercury.  I would not know what to suggest to parents, other than to talk to your baby’s pediatrician or dietary specialist for questions about child nutrition.  Varying a young child’s diet can be challenging.  Sorry there.  More research is coming out and we may reinvestigate mercury exposures in children.  Till then, less rice, perhaps.  Oh.  And clean air is important.

Genchi G, Sinicropi MS, Carocci A, Lauria G, Catalano A. 2017.  Mercury exposure and heart diseases.  Int. J Environ Res Public Health. 14(1): pii: E74. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14010074

Jeppesen C, Valera B, Nielsen NO, Bjerregaard P, Jorgensen ME. 2015.  Association between whole blood mercury and glucose tolerance among adult Inuit in Greenland.  Environ Res. 142(PtA): 192-7.

Rothenberg SE, Yu X, Liu J, Biasini FJ, Hong C, Jiang X, Nong Y, Cheng Y, Korrick SA. 2016.  Maternal methylmercury exposure through rice ingestion and offspring neurodevelopment: a prospective cohort study.  Internaional Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.  (In Press).

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Hemochromatosis gene may give athletes an edge

What is Hemochromatosis?

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Hemochromatosis is a rare genetic disease that causes iron to accumulate in the body.  Too much iron can have devastating effects.  People with hemochromatosis can develop “iron overload”.  We need iron to form hemoglobin and carry oxygen to our tissues, but too much can lead to cellular damage, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer.  The gene that causes hemochromatosis is called the HFE gene.  A mutation in this gene results in a protein that makes iron absorption very efficient.  In order to get hemochromatosis you need to have two mutated copies of the HFE gene.  The most common form of hemochromatosis (p.c282y) appears in about 2-5 people per thousand among Caucasians.  It is more common in some areas (1-2% in Ireland).  More people have a single mutated hemochromatosis gene.  About 5-14% of Western Europeans carry one.  About 6-7% of non-Hispanic White Americans carry it.

Benefits of a Hemochromatosis gene mutation?

It is possible that having a single Hemochromatosis gene is beneficial.  Studies have shown that women with a single copy are less likely to be anemic and less likely to be iron deficient (Datz et al. 1998).  People with two copies of the hemochromatosis also absorb more zinc, copper and manganese.  At present, it is unknown if people with single hemochromatosis genes do as well.  If yes, people with a single hemochromatosis gene may be protected from several nutritional deficiencies.  In any case, it looks like people with single copies may have an advantage in that they have some protection from iron deficiency.   Iron is critical to life.  It is also critical to athletic performance.   Having that HFE gene may protect an athlete from low iron or anemia.  It may be significant.  A recent study of French Olympic Rowing, Judo or Nordic Skiing Champions (Hermine et al. 2015) found that 80% of them had a single copy of the hemochromatosis gene mutation.  The frequency of a single HFE mutation was 50% for Olympic athletes who did not medal.

Genetics may help, but hard work, smart training and good nutrition are key.

Elite athletes may have “better” genetic profiles for sports than the general population.  But once they are at the elite level, they are separated coaching, training, nutrition, personality and luck (Santiago et al. 2010).  These factors will be what matter most for those without “better” genetic profiles as well. If the results of the French study (Hermine et al. 2015) are typical, 20% of Olympic Champions and 50% of Olympic athletes may be “just average” people. At least as far as the HFE gene is concerned.  If you have a great genetic profile, be grateful, but don’t forget you can still get your ass kicked by an average Joe or Jane.

Low iron is sometimes overlooked in athletes.  Intense training can speed iron loss.  Combine that with a poor diet or under-eating to make a certain weight and you may find your athlete struggling.  It can be a problem, especially for young women, that more training or another rest day may not solve. Female athletes who have stopped having periods seem to be prone to anemia (as well as bone thinning).  Click here to get info on tests for anemia.  Eat well my friends.  Train well.  Be reasonable.



Barton JC, Edwards CQ, Acton RT.  2015.  HFE gene: Structure, function, mutations and associated iron abnormalities.  Gene.  574: 179-192. 

Hermine O, Dine G, Genty V, Marquet LA, Fumagailli G, Tafflet M, Guillem F, Van Lierde F, Rousseaux-Blanchi, Palierne C, Lapostolle JC, Cervetti JP, Frey A, Jouven X, Noirez P, Toussaint JF.    2015.  Eighty percent of French sport winners in Olympic, World and Europeans competitions have mutations in the hemochromatosis HFE gene.  Biochemie.  119: 1-5. 

Santiago C, Ruiz JR, Munjesa CA, Gonzalez-Friere M, Gomez-Gallego F, Lucia A.  2010.  Does the poygenic profile determine the potential for becoming a world-class athlete? Insights from the sport of rowing.  Scand J Med Sci Sports.  20(1): e188-94. 

red wine, coffee and aspirin can prevent cancer?

Can aspirin prevent cancer? Add exercise, red wine and coffee.

Can aspirin prevent cancer?  And red wine and coffee?  First the aspirin.  The simple answer is yes.  Aspirin can prevent cancer. Aspirin reduces the risk that you, or someone you care about, will get cancer.  As of last October, aspirin is recommended for prevention of both cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.  A new study published this month found supports that view and found another benefit of aspirin. Aspirin reduces risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.  Aspirin also reduces overall risk of cancer.  Can aspirin prevent cancer of all types?  Unfortunately, aspirin did not reduce risk of lung cancer or breast or prostate cancer.

How much aspirin do I need to reduce risk of cancer?

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Lower cancer rates were seen in people who regularly took 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 regular sized aspirin tablets a week.  That’s not that much, but aspirin needed to have been taken for about six years before the effect was noticeable.   For people over 50, the researchers estimated that taking regular low-dose aspirin could prevent 10s of thousands of cancers a year.  The study used data from 135,965 regular aspirin users.  A lot of people and a lot of data allowed the researchers to make some pretty strong conclusions.

How does taking aspirin prevent cancer

It is thought that aspirin prevents cancer by reducing inflammation.  While inflammation can help speed recovery from infections it can also damage our cells.

Colorectal cancer sounds nasty.  What else can I do to reduce risk?

Risk for cancer goes up with age.  Not much you can do about that.  And some people may be at increased risk because of genetics.  African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to get it.  But there are some things you can control.  Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • heavy drinking (just when we were starting to get into bourbon!)
  • a diet high in red meat, especially if you like to cook it at high temperature (sorry Paleo friends, but that is what most of the research says).
  • processed meats (hot dogs, spam, etc., but those are gross.  No loss there.)
  • infection with human papilloma virus (HPV)
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Some things that can reduce risk of colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers are:

  • aspirin
  • mediterranean diet
  • regular exercise
  • healthy weight
  • maybe coffee
  • possibly red wine

Does this mean I can take aspirin, drink wine and coffee and not get a colonoscopy?

No.  You should still get screened for colorectal cancer if you are over 50.  Talk to your physician.  Sometimes the right lighting and music can help with any discomfort you might feel.  A glass of red wine might just complete the experience.

Conclusions and Relevance

Long-term aspirin use was associated with a modest, reduced risk for overall cancer.  Half to one and a half aspirin tablets daily for six years showed an especially reduced risk of gastrointestinal tumors. Regular aspirin use may prevent colorectal cancers and complement the benefits of screening.  Avoiding red meat and high cooking temperatures may help.  Drinking coffee and red wine might also reduce risk of colorectal cancer.

Read more.

Kontou N, Psaltopoulou T, Soupos N, Polychronopoulos E, Xinopoulos D, Linos A, Panagiotakos D.  2012.  Alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer in a Mediterranean population: a case-control study.  Dis Colon Rectum.  55(6): 703-10.  

Nakamura T, Ishikawa H, Mutoh M, Wakabayashi K, Kawano A, Sakai T, Matsuura N.  2015.  Coffee prevents proximal colorectal adenomas in Japanese men: a prospective cohort study.  Eur J Cancer Prev. 2015 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print]

Tarraga-Lopez PJ, Albero JS, Rodriguez-Montes JA.  2014.  Primary and secondary prevention of colorectal cancer.  Coin Med Insights Gastroenterol.  7:33-46.  

Masters athletes protein intake improves recovery. Virgin initiation ceremony for the Hash House Harriers, Grenada West Indies

Masters Athletes protein needs are higher than younger athletes

Masters athletes protein intake may need to be higher.  Masters athletes are slower to recover than similarly trained young athletes.  These differences are especially strong when there has been muscle damage. Sadly, a number of studies have shown that older people, and probably masters athletes, don’t remodel skeletal muscle as well. A recently published review article on the importance of masters athletes protein intake discusses this topic.

Masters athletes protein is important for adaptation to exercise

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Protein intake after exercise is important for adaptation as well as repair.   Protein can help muscles restock their glycogen supplies.  This is important because of evidence that glycogen is needed to make more mitochondria.  Making more mitochondria is one of the ways your body adapts to exercise.  It is also one of the ways that training leads to better performance.  Glycogen has traditionally been thought of as an endurance athlete’s problem.  Think marathon runners hitting “the wall.”  However glycogen is also important for resistance training and performance.  Resistance sessions can have a powerful impact on glycogen.  Drops of ~25-40% have been reported.  Of course, the drop will depend on intensity and volume.  Performance in activities like Crossfit might be significantly affected. Especially in situations where multiple events occur on the same day.  It would be nice to know more.  Until we do, pre-wod carbohydrate ingestion might be a strategy to follow.    But, back to masters athletes protein needs.

What are masters athletes protein needs exactly?

What exactly are recommended masters athletes protein intake?  Current recommendations for sedentary adults are .8 g/kg/body weight.  That comes to about 46 grams daily sedentary women.  56 grams daily for sedentary men.  Recommendations for athletes in training are 1.3-1.8 g/kg/body weight.  Some researchers have proposed that the protein needs of sedentary older adults are closer to that of athletes: up to 1.3 g/kg/body weight.  So, what about masters athletes?  Perhaps the upper range of 1.8 g/kg/body weight?  It probably depends on who you are, and what you are doing.  For now, try a high protein snack after your workouts.  And maybe up your protein intake in general.  Getting some protein after exercise can help speed muscle protein synthesis and repair.  Current recommendations hold that athletes in general should grab a snack with ~20 g of protein or 0.25 g/kg/body weight after a workout.  Masters athletes may need more protein to get the same benefit. Researchers further suggest that Masters athletes direct “particular attention” to leucine content of their post-exercise snack.  (Let’s guess that means “get some leucine.”) Give more leucine a try too.

Sources of Leucine.

masters athletes protein intake improves performance

Increased masters athletes protein intake gives masters the strength they need to beat up young people.

Good sources of leucine are eggs, soy (scary, I know a lot of people will reject this one right off), and seaweed followed by roasted moose meat.  For some reason roasted moose meat is better than raw.  This information comes from a random website that doesn’t say where they got their information.


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References for more reading on masters athletes protein and such

Doering TM, Reaburn PR, Phillips SM, Jenkins DG.  2015.  Post-exercise dietary protein strategies to maximize skeletal muscle repair and remodeling in Masters Endurance Athletes: A review.

Nowson C, O’Connell S.  2015.  Protein requirements and recommendatons for older people: a review.  Nutrients. 7(8):6874-99. doi: 10.3390/nu7085311

Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ.  2011.  Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation.  29:S29-38.  J Sports Sci.  doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204. 

Pim K, Hopman MTE, Mensink M.  2015.  Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise.  Nutr Metabl.  doi:  10.1186/s12986-015-0055-9




Weighted vest exercise program can build hip bone mineral density

Can BPA make you gain weight? It might change your activitystat.

Activitystat is a setpoint for a person’s general activity level.

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Have you ever wondered why some people are very active while others prefer to conserve their energy?  People tend to keep preferred levels of activity, almost as part of their personalities.  Those who are highly active may prefer lots of sports or just lots of fidgeting.  They get antsy when confined. Others relax whenever possible.  The ActivityStat is a term for a person’s general level of activity.  “The ActivityStat hypothesis” suggests that when physical activity is increased or decreased in one domain, there will be a compensatory change in another domain, in order to maintain an overall stable level of physical activity or energy expenditure over time.”  The ActivityStat leads people to maintain a certain level of activity.  A person whose ActivityStat is high would probably fidget more or get up 20 times to get coffee when confined.   Person whose ActivityStat is low might reduce activity for the rest of the day after a workout or play session.  What determines a person’s activitystat is unknown.  It might be genetic.  But it may also be influenced by the environment.

The obesity epidemic is disturbing and fascinating as well.  And while many have been quick to blame parents, the internet, schools and “moral failings,” there is growing evidence that unseen and poorly understood factors are involved, at least in part.  These factors include current or early exposure to chemicals that have entered the environment or otherwise found their way to our food and water supplies.  BPA, found in some plastics, has been a hot-button chemical.  It was one of the first identified as an “endocrine disruptor” (a chemical that interacts with hormones or their receptors).  While there has been a ton of research on BPA, new things keep turning up:  male rats exposed to BPA very early in life, don’t move around as much as unexposed rats.

Can BPA make you gain weight?  BPA also increases fat cells.

While BPA may decrease your activity stat, it also increases fat cells.  At least in vitro (this is cells in a dish, rather than in a living animal).  When a person is exposed to BPA, the body gets rid of it pretty quickly.  It converts it to something called BPA-G.  Until recently it was thought the BPA-G was harmless and could be urinated away.  BPA-G added to a cell culture of potential fat cells caused the not-yet-fat cells to turn into fat cells.  It also caused them to start making more fat.  There may be no need to fear the occasional drink from a plastic water bottle.  But people should probably stay away when possible.  Especially pregnant women.  Even if it says BPA-free on the label.  We are just learning about BPA-free plastics, and it looks like they are much like BPA.  A last word . . . these studies were of cells (or rats) eposed to BPA or BPA-G early on.  The same effect may not be seen in adults.  Or even humans for that matter.  My apologies if this is too technical or not technical enough.  For you geeks, links to the original articles are below.

Andrea B. Kirk

The author on a great hair day.

NOTE:  This is a disclaimer.  I am not a medical doctor, I am a scientist. If you have questions about your health, talk to your medical doctor

Boucher JG, Boudreau A, Ahmed S, Atlas E. In Vitro Effects of Bisphenol A β-D-Glucuronide (BPA-G) on Adipogenesis in Human and Murine Preadipocytes.Environmental Health Perspectives. 2015;123(12):1287-1293. doi:10.1289/ehp.1409143.

Volberg V, Harley K, Calafat AM, et al. Maternal bisphenol A exposure during pregnancy and its association with adipokines in Mexican-American children.Environmental and molecular mutagenesis. 2013;54(8):621-628. doi:10.1002/em.21803.

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Obesity Genetics and Bacteria: Another Piece of a Strange Puzzle

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Obesity genetics and bacteria are strange bedfellows.  The causes of obesity are far more complicated than we thought just a few short years ago.  Diet and exercise are important, for sure.  But scientists are discovering that genetics and the gut microbiome are be key factors too.  The gut microbiome, if you didn’t know, are the trillions of bacteria that reside in our digestive tracts.  New research has uncovered a piece of how genetics and bacteria interact to increase the chances that someone will become obese, or develop diabetes.

Obesity Genetics and Bacteria Nutshell

Most of us will remember that people can’t digest plant fiber.  That is why we don’t bother to eat grass.  Or leaves.  Or at least most leaves . . . the kind on trees.  Or shrubberies.  Cows and other hoofed animals can eat these things because their stomachs are designed differently.  Bacteria in a cow’s stomach have time to ferment grass and such and break down all those long cellulose chains into useable starch for the cow.  It turns out, however, that some gut bacteria in humans can break down plant fiber into short chain fatty acids.   Humans can then take these fatty acids and convert them into fat.

Obesity and Genetics.

Here comes the genetics part:  While we host trillions of bacteria, we also control their populations.   Overgrowth of bacteria is controlled by a gene called TLR5.  People whose TLR5 doesn’t work that well cannot control gut bacteria as well.  About 10% of our population has a mutated TLR5 that just doesn’t work.  At all.   Having this mutation increases your risk of metabolic syndrome: obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Having this mutation also increases fat deposits in the liver.  If you are incredibly geeky (happy emoticom) you can read this “just out” article on genetics and obesity and bacteria here.  If you are less technically oriented, hopefully this information will of help as it is.  If you are struggling with your weight and trying to stay healthy, keep up the good work.   It actually is harder for some people than it is for others.   Different people can actually eat the same thing, and get different amounts of calories out of it.

Back in the old days having this mutation might have been beneficial.  You would have been able to extract more energy from food, which would have been great in times of famine.  But we now live in a time of excess.

Masters athletes protein intake improves recovery. Virgin initiation ceremony for the Hash House Harriers, Grenada West Indies

Can stress from noise make you gain weight?

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Can stress make you gain weight?  Not too long ago that would have been considered a funny question. Weight gain, you would have known for fact, is caused by eating too much and exercising too little.  These things are certainly important, but research indicates that is not the entire story.  There are other factors. Research indicates stress, including stress from such simple things as noise, can play a role in weight gain.

Can stress make you gain weight?

Surely there are many factors involved in the current obesity epidemic.  I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of people blame the loss of recess and gym class in schools, the supersized drinks, and the easy availability of junk food,  There is also the lack of time needed to plan, shop for, and prepare the healthy, home-cooked meals that some of us stealthily passed to the dog under the table during our childhoods.  Unwanted vegetables, I recall, were stashed in pockets.  But why are so many people struggling today with body weight?  If you stop to think about it, our bodies do an amazing job of maintaining body weight.  Our weight doesn’t, unless something is really wrong, seesaw all over the place.  When we do gain weight, it tends to move gradually upwards, and then is hard to take off.  This is due to complex interactions of hormones, which we do not completely understand.  Note here: what we don’t know about the regulation of our own bodies could fill a barn. Somewhere out there is the answer to the question how can stress make you gain weight.

How stress can make you gain weight

When a person experiences long-term stress the body adapts by increasing levels of cortisol.  Cortisol does a number of things.  Cortisol elevates blood sugar, suppresses your immune system, and breaks down muscle to use it for fuel.  Fat, tends to build up, especially around the waist.  This is a very simplified nut-shell explanation.   For an excellent and enjoyable discussion check out this video featuring stress researcher Robert Sapolsky.

Contemporary life is full of stressors.  This can include things we think we have completely tuned out, like noise. Living in an area with heavy traffic noise has been associated with cardiovascular disease.  It has also been associated with metabolic disorders and sleep problems.   Noise as a factor in body fat was studied by a group of Danish researchers.  They had a cohort of over 57,000 people.  This is a lot of people, which makes the study a lot more powerful than studies that look at small numbers of people.   The results of the study found that people in areas with noise levels of 60+ decibels had larger waists and higher BMI than people living in quiet areas (20 or fewer decibels of noise).   Researchers controlled for socioeconomic factors, history of smoking, level of physical activity and exposure to air pollution which are also associated with body weight and metabolic disorders.

Can stress make you gain weight?  Maybe.  Can noise make you gain weight?

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This study indicates that people living with noise have bigger waists and are heavier, as a whole, than people whose homes were quiet.     What makes for a noisy home?  The researchers were particularly interested in noise from traffic and railroads.  The cutoff for “noisy” was 60 decibels.  This is not considered all that loud.  Background conversation in a restaurant will clock in at about 60 decibels.   Being a hundred feet from an air conditioner can too.  Driving in a car, presumably with the windows shut will be around 70 decibels and conversation at home is normally around 50.  To get into the quiet category (20 decibels or less) your average background noise would consist of gently rustling leaves and whispering.

Things to consider for the can stress make you gain weight question

Reducing stress in your life, including extra noise, may help you improve your health and make losing weight easier.  However, not everyone responds to stress, including the stress of noise, in the same way.  Some people find quiet very stressful.  Some noise can be soothing.  Tweeting birds and babbling brooks make noise too.

Christensen JS, Raaschou-Nielsen O, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Nordsborg RB, Ketzel M, Sørensen TI, & Sørensen M (2015). Road Traffic and Railway Noise Exposures and Adiposity in Adults: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort. Environmental health perspectives PMID: 26241990

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Athletes have fewer Advanced Glycation End Products

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Most of us have probably heard at some point from someone that those of us who have been life long athletes will suffer for it later.  But this may not be true.  An important factor thought to influence aging is accumulation of “advanced glycation end products.”  Athletes have less of it.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are caused by sugars in the blood that get stuck on proteins.  AGEs are higher in diabetics.  AGEs might be a cause of poor aging in uncontrolled diabetics. AGEs form crosslinks in connective tissue.  There is evidence that accumulation of crosslinks makes tendons stiffer and more fragile.  But what about masters athletes?  Could reduced advanced glycation end products be one of the reasons masters athletes seem to age better and look younger than sedentary people?

Advanced Glycation End Products in Life Long Endurance Runners

The question of advanced glycation end products in older athletes was recently investigated by Couppe et al. (2014).  They compared AGEs in four groups of men.  One group was made of life long masters athletes with an average age of 64.  The second group was a similar number of men who were not masters athletes (average age 66).  The third was of trained athletes, average age 26.  They were matched to a fourth group of untrained young men, average age 24.  The researchers looked at AGEs in the patellar tendon (the one holding the kneecap down) as well as AGEs in skin.  All of the men in the athletic categories were trained runners.

Findings: Advanced glycation end products and tendon strength and skin in endurance athletes.

  • Advanced glycation end products were 21% lower in tendons trained masters athletes than in their matched sedentary peers.
  • Advanced glycation end products were 11% lower in skin of trained masters athletes than their sedentary peers. (This may be part of why masters athletes look so good.)  It is also indicates endurance exercise reduces AGEs throughout the body, and not just in the muscles being used.
  • Masters Athletes had the thickest tendons out of everyone.   This is good because strong tendons can take more stress before suffering damage.
  • Masters Athletes had lowest insulin levels among all groups
  • Young athletes however had the lowest fasting and non-fasting glucose levels.  Masters athletes did better than sedentary peers, but not as good as either group of young men


The most important findings in this study is that life-long endurance training produces a masters athlete with stronger, thicker tendons, less accumulation of advanced glycation end productss in tendon and skin.  The increase in AGEs in skin is thought to be responsible for wrinkling and loss of resilience in older skin. Exercise can give you a better body, but it can also make you look better.  Limitations of the study:  The researchers who did this study only looked at one AGE,Pentosidine.   There are many.  In all likelihood if Pentosidine is elevated other AGEs are too. But we don’t know for sure  How do lifelong masters athletes compare to people who have been exercising for a couple of years or months?  What is the optimal level of exercise?

Take away: exercise can reduce Advanced Glycation End Products

Other studies have shown that exercise other than running can reduce circulation of Advanced Glycation End Products.   Short-term human studies have include studies of walking and resistance training.  If you are a masters athlete . . . keep it up.  If you are not, or have fallen off the wagon, . . . its time to join in.

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Couppé C, Svensson RB, Grosset JF, Kovanen V, Nielsen RH, Olsen MR, Larsen JO, Praet SF, Skovgaard D, Hansen M, Aagaard P, Kjaer M, & Magnusson SP (2014). Life-long endurance running is associated with reduced glycation and mechanical stress in connective tissue. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 36 (4) PMID: 24997017

Gkogkolou P, & Böhm M (2012). Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin aging? Dermato-endocrinology, 4 (3), 259-70 PMID: 23467327

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Getting lasting strength with a weighted vest exercise program.

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People’s bones have tended to become less dense as they get older, leading to increased risk of fractures. Having low bone mineral density puts you at high risk for fractures, including severely debilitating hip fractures.  About 250,000 people break their hips every year in the US.  This costs billions in health care and can result loss of mobility, bone necrosis (decay of the tissue), lots of pain and suffering and sometimes, death.  Hip fractures can be extremely difficult to heal because bone breaks can result in loss of blood supply to sections of bone.  Luckily bone density is something over which we have some control.  There are several things that are important: diet, vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercise.  They are important as a threesome.

Weight-bearing exercise

Most of us are probably aware that weight-bearing exercise helps build bone. Weight stresses bones.  Bone responds by getting thicker, stronger and more dense.  It needs calcium to do this.   If there is not enough calcium in circulation, your body will take calcium from bones that are not under particular stress and stick it where it thinks it needs it.  This means you can build your femurs while weakening your wrists.  Strengthening hip bones is important because the consequences of hip fracture can be devastating, but it is important to keep the whole picture in mind.  Whole body workouts, along with a good diet, are best.

How much weight-bearing exercise do I need?

Research indicates one hour of weight bearing exercise three times a week is enough to prevent bone loss.  This doesn’t mean that this is the ideal amount.  It just means that it produced measurable results.  More might be better.  Less might be OK.  But one hour, three times a week, works!

What type of weight-bearing exercise is best?

The aim is to put mechanical stress on your bones without causing injury.  This can take any number of different forms.  A major study used very basic lower body exercises, including jumping, with a weighted vest.  Participants started out slowly, adding weight as they went along, with weights tailored to each individual.  Participants were all older women described as “active and not sedentary”.  They did lunges, lateral lunges, chair raises, stepping, and jumping down from an 8-inch step in a group exercise class.  Vest weights were increased incrementally over the course of the study. The women were followed for five years, which is terrific.  It is really hard to do these kinds of studies without losing people to moves, injuries, etc.  A control group was instructed to refrain from new exercise, but to otherwise carry on life as they normally did. Measures of bone density were made at the beginning of the study and five years later.


Women who participated in the weighted vest exercise program increased bone density by about 1%.  That may not seem like much until you look at the results from the women who did not do the weighted vest exercise.  The control women, who were also described as active and not-sedentary) had about a 4% loss of bone mineral density.  The extra weighted vest exercise prevented what used to be considered an inevitable part of growing older.

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What I found particularly interesting was the amount of emphasis placed on jumping as a means of stressing bone.  Jumping has been shown to produce measurable results in young women in as little as two weeks.  (Kishimoto et al. 2012).  Maybe we should be grateful for box jumps and burpees, instead of hating them, like I do.  If you are someone who steps up as an alternative to jumping up on box jumps, consider stepping up and then jumping down.  The landing will stress your hips and leg bones and help strengthen them.  Jumping down may actually be more productive, in terms to increasing bone strength, than the trip up.

A note about rowing:  rowing helps build bone in the spine.  This is important too. Remember whole body training and care.

Here is a short video for those who want to learn more about hip fractures.  I found this video series very helpful in medical school.  There is something soothing about them too.

Shaw JM, & Snow CM (1998). Weighted vest exercise improves indices of fall risk in older women. The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, 53 (1) PMID: 9467434

McNamara, A., Gunter, K., & Snow, C. (2005). Postmenopausal Women Who Participate In Rowing Exercise Have Higher Spine BMD Than Controls Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 37 (Supplement) DOI: 10.1249/00005768-200505001-00815

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Benefits of Video Games for Adults: Masters Athletes should start playing.

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There is nothing quite like getting your butt handed to you by an eight year old.  If you’ve been brave enough, or gullible enough, to play video games with a child you’ll probably know what this feels like.  The kid will have racked up enough diamonds to launch a takeover of seven galaxies before you’ve figured out which of the characters is yours.   Having given up playing MarioKart after veering repeatedly over cliffs and into hot lava several years ago, I was somewhat disappointed to see that research is showing that video games offer a number of benefits of video games for adults that Masters Athletes should probably consider.

The virtual challenges of video can produce real improvements in physical performance.

There have been a number of studies in this area.  Some have shown improvements in physical performance and some haven’t leading to a fair amount of controversy.  They are not that effective, for example, in helping people lose weight. However, evidence is pointing towards a positive effect of video games, at least for older people.  Video game experience for 30 min three times a week improved balance and gait in elderly adults..  Note though: so did playing games with a ball.  Still, there is great benefit in variety.  Video games may be a great way to provide challenge and change.

Video games can improve performance on mental tasks, mood and outlook.

A recent meta study (a statistical look at a collection of studies) says yes, video games improve cognitive performance in older adults.  In all likelihood the type of game played will matter.  To be honest, repeated trips off the road and into hot lava or some abyss has never improved my mood or outlook.  Mostly, I’ve gotten frustrated and stalked off to make popcorn.  However, a study of 40 older adults (57-80) playing a “non-action” games like Speed mach, Memory matrix, Rotation matrix, Face memory, Memory match, Moneycomb, Lost in migration, Space junk, Raindrops, and Chalkboard got better at 

  • Processing
  • Maintaining attention
  • Recall and memory
  • Improved sense of well-being

As seems to be the case with most training programs, you have to keep with it. Most of the benefits of video games for adults, at least for those skills tested, were lost three months after people stopped playing.

Competitive Video games can kill pain in the same way physical competition does, at least in men.

There is a well-known phenomenon that occurs during competition.  If someone is engrossed in competition they may cease to feel pain.  Or not even feel an injury that occurs during competition until later.  This has been observed in both male and female athletes (See Sternberg et al 2001 below).  A 2001 study compared how male and female athletes and non athletes responded to heat and cold pain perception tests.   Males who played a competitive car racing video game had reduced pain perception.  This wasn’t true for female subjects.  This may be because females handle pain differently than men, or because females had less experience with video games.  Women had less pain after non-competitive treadmill exercise, while males were unchanged.  Hopefully future research will shed more light on the benefits of video games for pain management in both men and women.

If you are interested in a trying out a non-action video game this one, Myths2: Soul Lords works on iphone and ipad.  It is free, as of the date of this post.  There are plenty of racing car games.  A number of them have no lava at all.

Non-action fantasy card game

Non-action fantasy card game.







Park EC, Kim SG, & Lee CW (2015). The effects of virtual reality game exercise on balance and gait of the elderly. Journal of physical therapy science, 27 (4), 1157-9 PMID: 25995578

Sternberg, W., Boka, C., Kas, L., Alboyadjia, A., & Gracely, R. (2001). Sex-Dependent Components of the Analgesia Produced by Athletic Competition The Journal of Pain, 2 (1), 65-74 DOI: 10.1054/jpai.2001.18236

Ballesteros S, Mayas J, Prieto A, Toril P, Pita C, Laura Pde L, Reales JM, & Waterworth JA (2015). A randomized controlled trial of brain training with non-action video games in older adults: results of the 3-month follow-up. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 7 PMID: 25926790