Category Archives: exercise

Outliers, Regression and the Sports Illustrated Myth

By appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, sportsmen and women become jinxed and shortly thereafter experience bouts of bad luck, goes the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx myth.

‘Evidence’ of the myth comes in the form of many individuals and teams who have died or, more commonly, simply experienced bad luck in their chosen vocation shortly after appearing on the cover of the magazine.

The Wikipedia entry for the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx has a thorough list of some “notable incidences” and also provides a concise, scientific explanation of the phenomenon:

The most common explanation for the perceived effect is that athletes are generally featured on the cover after an outlier performance; their future performance is likely to display regression toward the mean and be less impressive by comparison. This decline in performance would then be misperceived as being related to, or even possibly caused by, the appearance on the magazine cover.

Related: The Madden NFL Curse.

via Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science

Sedentary Lifestyle? Exercise Isn’t Helping

A somewhat sedentary lifestyle combined with regular exercise is turning us into what physiologists are calling ‘active couch potatoes’–and that exercise, no matter how vigourous, doesn’t appear to be counteracting the negative effects of that sedentary lifestyle.

In rats, this lifestyle was found to produce “unhealthy cellular changes in their muscles” and increase insulin resistance and fatty acid levels in their blood. In conclusion: a mostly sedentary lifestyle is bad for us, regardless of exercise habits.

[Studies have shown] that, to no one’s surprise, the men who sat the most had the greatest risk of heart problems. Men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised. Quite a few of them said they did so regularly and led active lifestyles. The men worked out, then sat in cars and in front of televisions for hours, and their risk of heart disease soared, despite the exercise. Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting. […]

Decades ago, before the advent of computers, plasma TVs and Roombas, people spent more time completing ‘light-intensity activities’ […] Nowadays, few of us accumulate much light-intensity activity. We’ve replaced those hours with sitting.

The physiological consequences are only slowly being untangled. […] Scientists believe the changes are caused by a lack of muscular contractions. If you sit for long hours, you experience no ‘isometric contraction of the antigravity (postural) muscles’. […] Your muscles, unused for hours at a time, change in subtle fashion, and as a result, your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases can rise.

via Waxy

The Effectiveness of Social Support on Exercise Goals

Informing our friends and family of our resolutions in hope that the social support will encourage us is an effective tactic–as long as these people ‘check-in’ on our progress at semi-regular intervals.

That’s the conclusion from a study where three groups of people had their exercise goals tracked under one of three conditions: a regular phone call from an exercise instructor, a regular automated call from a machine, and a control group receiving no calls.

The results showed that having to report your progress toward a goal drastically increases the amount of effort undertaken–especially when it’s a human checking-in on your progress.

The caller, whether human or computer, asked the participants to recite the amount of exercise they performed during the past week. Participants were then congratulated on any exercise performed, and asked how the level might be increased in the week ahead. When lapses occurred […] the goal was to impress upon participants the importance of resuming the workout as soon as possible. All questions were designed to encourage rather than to scold.

After 12 months, participants receiving calls from a live person were exercising, as a mean, about 178 minutes a week, above government recommendations for 150 minutes a week. That represented a 78% jump from about 100 minutes a week at the start of the study. Exercise levels for the group receiving computerized calls doubled to 157 minutes a week. A control group of participants, who received no phone calls, exercised 118 minutes a week, up 28% from the study’s start. […]

Some studies by other researchers have suggested that after eight weeks of regular exercising many people can settle into a long-term habit of working out.

The article also cites a study on how meeting in groups to discuss exercising goals (group-counseling) showed a quadrupling of exercise levels after three months and an even greater jump at nine months (long after the group-counseling sessions ended in month three). By contrast, “the exercise level of a control group rose during the study period but at nine months had returned to near-baseline levels”.

via Nudge

Nine Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Longevity

By studying the world’s Blue Zones–“communities whose elders live with vim and vigor to record-setting age”–Dan Buettner and team discovered a set of common behavioural traits in their subjects.

In his TEDxTC talk Buettner discusses what he discovered to be the myths of living longer and the nine common diet and lifestyle habits of those who live to be active at 100+:

  • Exercise Naturally: They don’t consciously exercise — rather, daily physical exercise was a natural part of their lives (walking, using stairs, cycling for transport, etc.).
  • Downshift: They live a simple life.
  • Have a Purpose: Knowing and acting with purpose and having a higher goal leads to around a seven year increase in life expectancy.
  • Moderate Alcohol Intake: I’ve discussed this at length before.
  • Plant-Based Diet: Not a vegetarian diet, but a largely plant-based one.
  • No Overeating: They avoid overeating, typically by using ‘nudges’.
  • Friends and Family First: They typically think of their close friends and family first.
  • Belong to a Faith-Based Community: Belonging to a faith-based community, and meeting on average four times a month, can add four to fourteen years to one’s life. Does this exclude atheists? I don’t see why a humanist community that meets the same rules (meeting regularly) would be different.
  • Belong to the Right ‘Tribe’: They surround themselves with the ‘right’ people. By doing so they prevent getting bad habits through social network effects (also discussed previously).

via David DiSalvo

More on the Cognitive Benefits of Moderate Exercise

“There is overwhelming evidence that exercise produces large cognitive gains and helps fight dementia”, says the Harvard University psychologist John Ratey, author of the 2008 book on the subject, Spark.

While Ratey propounds the “very clear” link between exercise and mental acuity, saying that even moderate exercise pushes back cognitive decline by “anywhere from 10 to 15 years”, the National Institutes of Health are more cautious:

Looking at reducing the risk of “cognitive decline in older adults,” [the NIH] wrote: “Preliminary evidence suggests a beneficial association of physical activity and a range of leisure activities (e.g., club membership, religious services, painting, gardening) with the preservation of cognitive function.” A few small studies showed that “increased physical activity may help maintain or improve cognitive function in normal adults”.

I’ve written before about the extensive cognitive benefits of exercise, but as Noah Gray (via) says, “it never hurts to reinforce the message”.