Mental health matters

Because she took care of herself, Molly Seidel was able to achieve at the highest level

This year’s Olympics really seemed to put a real focus on mental health issues in sports. From mind-body disconnects that could be incredibly dangerous if not life threatening to mental health issues related to high level competition or placing one’s health above performance, the topic seemed to come up in several discussions.

While this is a discussion I would never pretend to be an expert in, I think it is a very important one so I’ll offer a few thoughts and encourage anyone who is facing challenges to seek help and anyone who knows someone facing challenges to be supportive.

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Incidental fitness

It won’t make you an Olympian but a regular walk is good for your general fitness

When I first began working from home back in March, I made a promise to myself. I’d get at least 30 minutes of dedicated activity every day until I returned to work.

Why would I make a promise like this? I wanted to make sure I was doing something every day, even if I was taking a day off of running, because I was bound to be less active throughout the day.

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What to do after a breakthrough?

Because there was no last Thursday of the month blog post last month, there will be none this month, and I’m incredibly busy at the moment, I’m going to slip a recap in here. There’s a lot I’ve been reading. Here’s some of it.

One note: I mentioned I’m going to slip more than just sports science links into these posts going forward. I’m going to feature something that is not sports science this month.

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Nutrition for the runner

Get plenty of fruits and veggies – almost certainly more than you are now

Now that we’re a little past the annual fad diet craze, let’s have a serious discussion about good nutrition. While I’m gearing this toward runners, a lot of it applies to non-runners. Why? While runners have some unique needs, good nutrition is good nutrition.

To be clear, I’m not going to offer specific advice. I’m going to speak in generalities. This is because I am not a nutritionist or registered dietician and I won’t pretend to be a nutrition expert. If you want specific diet advice, see someone who is qualified and don’t get your advice off the internet.

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Eating disorders

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

I’ve encountered a few instances recently that have made me realize how prevalent in the running world eating disorders are.

One of these instances that spurred this post was this article, written by Jenny Scherer. Another was an article on Suzy Favor Hamilton, who also had to overcome eating disorders.

I just wanted to address this topic not because I think this post alone will spur someone to seek the help they need but because I guess I had my head in the sand. I knew they existed but I didn’t realize how common eating disorders were in the running community. In recent weeks, I’ve heard of several runners I never would have guessed before who faced these issues.

I’m not even close an expert on this topic. I’m not posting this with the intent to offer advice, just to raise awareness. If you’re looking for advice, it would be know the symptoms and learn how to approach someone if you suspect a problem (there are things that definitely should be done and some things you might instinctively think of doing that should definitely not be done). If you see some symptoms in yourself, please consider talking with someone about what you see going on.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading more on symptoms and how we can help those in our lives who we suspect might need help.

If anyone knows of good resources, please share in the comments. If I find anything I find especially useful, I’ll be sure to share there also.

The athlete’s brain

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

A few weeks ago, I came across this 5 year old article on athletes and their brains. Interesting topic. How is an athlete’s brain different than a non-athlete’s?

It should not be surprising if you think about it that it takes less processing power to perform a skill that you’ve been practicing for some time. You just know how to do it. It turns out that’s the case. There is far less brain activity required to perform a task when you practice it a lot than if you’re new to it.

Not surprising. A pro basketball player can dribble the ball without even thinking about it and simultaneously scan the court and decide what the best play to run would be. I, on the other hand, need to focus on dribbling or I’m going to dribble it off my foot.

Likewise, if you’re well practiced, you can also notice patterns earlier. I’ve heard a lot of talk recently of baseball hitters. If I recall, the hitter has to react to the pitch by the time the ball is not even halfway to the plate in order to have time to relay the message of whether to swing and where to the muscles and to perform the swing by the time the ball is at the plate. With practice, the batter can read the pitcher’s movements, as well as the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand, and predict fairly reliably where the ball will be well before it arrives.

Again, not surprising but an amazing skill if you think about it. Before the ball is even halfway to the plate, the batter knows where it’s going to be simply by watching the pitcher’s movements and the spin on a baseball that’s flying toward him at 90 miles per hour. This is a skill that a professional batter can do instinctively without even thinking about it (if he thinks about it, the ball is past him before he decides what to do).

So what does this have to do with runners? Well, we may not have a lot of complex skills we’re trying to learn but putting one foot in front of the other is not nearly as simply as you may think. It’s also not quite the same motor skill on paved surfaces as on unpaved surfaces. Practice really will make us more efficient and practice on the type of surface we will be racing on is important in maximizing that skill.

Also, I would argue that developing neuromuscular skills through activities like balancing exercises and form drills really can benefit us. If we becomes more efficient at these things that simulate running, that will also make us more efficient at running itself.

There are also benefits to the brain in doing these things. You’re wiring a more resilient brain. So get out there and do it. Work on your form drills and balance drills. You might find that both your running and your brain power will be improved.

Running and life expectancy

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

Does sports participation give you a longer life?

That’s what this article asks. The result?

The data here seems to suggest that participation in aerobic activity has a positive impact on overall life expectancy. Further, participation in these activities may delay the development of heart disease. While this is encouraging, more research should be done on the subject to detail if this increase in life expectancy and disease resistance is due to the activity in question or some other factor like genetics or other lifestyles.

The study participants were former elite athletes so the carryover may not be quite there to average athletes. Or maybe it is. More study would be needed.

That said, there is an interesting chart showing former endurance athletes have a median life expectancy roughly 6 years longer than that of the controls.

I think this confirms what most of us would tend to believe. Our extensive aerobic activity provides health benefits that extend our lives. That said, as the quote above mentions, it would be nice to see further study done to determine what factors actually extend our lives and maybe even quantify them.

Running in polluted air

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

Just one topic this week. The reason will be more clear if you read Thursday’s blog post.

This is a very interesting question, though. I think we’ve beaten the "running is good for you" topic to death recently.

But what about in pollution? This is a question I’ve wondered about frequently. I’ve always felt that running in pollution is probably better than not running at all and what limited research has been available has mostly confirmed that. However, there has been a lack of long term research on this topic.

Well, Alex Hutchinson found a study that covered this topic.

The result?

There were a few hints of possible interactions. For example, people who cycled or gardened were 45 percent less likely to die from respiratory diseases during the study than non-exercisers if they lived in low- or moderate-pollution areas, but only 23 percent (for cycling) or 19 percent (for gardening) less likely in high-pollution areas.

Common sense of course says breathing polluted air is bad for you and that’s clear in these results. That means, as much as possible, it is wise to avoid the most polluted areas. Try to stay away from busy highways when running and things like that. However, more importantly, exercise is better than none regardless of the air you’re breathing.

Running “too much” or “too fast” (probably) won’t kill you

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.


I was thinking of doing what would look more like a typical Monday post today with some content from last week. However, this week, some bad analysis of a study that’s been around for a while began appearing.

You may have seen the headlines: Fast running is as deadly as sitting on couch, scientists find or Too much jogging ‘as bad as no exercise at all’ or Stop that binge jogging! Three times a week is best for you… and too much is as bad as doing nothing

Whoa! Seriously? Sounds like I should reconsider my training routine. Or…maybe not.

Alex Hutchinson did a fine job covering this.

This quote sums things up pretty well:

Yes, the conclusion of the study (that "strenuous" jogging is as bad as being sedentary) is based on two deaths over more than a decade of follow-up. (Thank goodness a third person didn’t die, or public health authorities would be banning jogging.)

To summarize, there were simply not enough "fast" or "high frequency" runners to have a statistically significant result. The basic concept here is a fundamental rule of statistics. There is always variability in numbers. There are always random events happening. In order to truly pick up trends, you need a large sample size. If you only sample 10 smokers and 10 non-smokers, you might simply by chance find that both groups have the same number of people who have died from lung cancer. Sample 1000 of each, though, and you’ll start to see a trend where smokers more frequently die of lung cancer.

The same thing is going on here. You had sample sizes of 413 sedentary individuals, 640 who ran less than 1 hour a week but only 50 who ran more than 4 hours a week. If you look at the raw numbers, only 2% of those who ran more than 4 hours a week died in the next decade. A far lower percentage than the sedentary subgroup (though other factors such as age came into play also). However, because there were only 50 individuals, you didn’t have a statistically significant result.

Somehow the media spins "not statistically significant" into "running a lot is as dangerous as not running at all". That’s not at all what this study suggests. It just suggests there isn’t enough information to be sure the results mean anything.

So don’t fear the headlines. Understand what this data really says. We simply don’t know what the numbers would look like with a larger sample size.