Monthly Archives: June 2013

Vegan sausage and peppers

IMG_1258This was a very tasty, spicy, high protein meal. It is also a quick meal to prepare. Perfect for those recovering from vigorous exercise. Sausage and peppers are everywhere this time of year, especially at local street fairs. Unfortunately, in my area they are never vegan. So I figured I would make my own.

I used one Tofurkey Italian sausage(30 g of protein), along with the 3 pepper Melange a Trois, both of which I got from Trader Joe’s. The Melange a Trois is a combination of 3 different colored peppers, red, green, and yellow. I also added some onions, I can never get enough onions or garlic, and I sauteed the sausage and peppers and onions for about 10 minutes in extra virgin olive oil. Although I am not Italian, I sometimes suspect my garlic addiction indicates I am an atavism of some remote Italian ancestor. Or better yet, maybe you can call me an “atavismo”. Sounds better doesn’t it?

The Melange a Trois is found in the frozen food section at Trader Joe’s or you can just get peppers from any grocery store. The only minor problem I had was not having the right type of bread. The bread slices I have are too soft to make sausage sandwiches with, so I ended up crumbling the bread into the sausage and pepper mix. It was still a fabulous meal and recommend it to vegans and non-vegans alike.

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The “dangers” of running and the availability heuristic

IMG_1232I really wish that writing this wasn’t necessary, yet on a regular basis I run into misinformed people who believe that distance running is the most dangerous thing a person can do after BASE jumping. Sometimes even family members plead with me to stop running, because they believe I am slowly killing myself. The fact that I am a vegan makes them even more concerned, but that is another issue that has already been covered.

Why do so many people assume running is dangerous? To a large extent it is due to media reports. Every now and then, someone drops dead during or after a marathon or a long run. This makes news; what doesn’t make big news are all the millions of marathon runners who cross the finish line without any serious issues.

It makes really big news if a prominent runner dies. Last year it was ultra-runner Micah True. A few decades ago it was Jim Fixx, who helped popularize marathon running and even wrote a book about running. True, who died at the age of 58, appears to have had a heart defect, and Jim Fixx, who died at 52 from a heart attack, appears to have had similar problems, besides having been a heavy smoker, and had serious weight problems before he took up marathon running.

Indeed, most deaths during marathons are due to pre-existing conditions like heart-defects and/or combined with improper training. Yet statistically, marathon running is not associated with an increased risk of death. On the contrary, according to the British Medical Journal:

Results The marathons provided results for 3 292 268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100 000 participants (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.1). Because of road closure, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% (95% confidence interval 17% to 49%). The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed (95% confidence interval: 0.7 to 3.8). The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty.

And this doesn’t even cover all the health benefits from regular exercise and the deaths prevented by it – being a couch potato is much more dangerous for your health than distance running.

But why do so many people continue to believe otherwise? In part I am sure that laziness plays a part in why sedentary people say ridiculous things about the “dangers” of running, but there is something else going on. I thought it would be more helpful to generalize why this is, even at the risk of getting overly technical, since I originally did not want to cover this topic again. By generalizing this, you can see that this anti-running bias is really one manifestation of a very prevalent cognitive bias called the availability heuristic. What is the availability heuristic? According to Wikipedia:

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by how easy it is to think of examples. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that, “if you can think of it, it must be important.”

It’s the same phenomenon that leads people who ordinarily have no problem driving in automobiles to have a debilitating fear of flying in airplanes. Even though, statistically speaking, air travel is far safer than driving in a car. Those catastrophic plane crashes that happen every so often make big news, and are permanently etched into the minds of many people, leading to this bias. The thousands of planes that take off and land safely every day are not newsworthy.

It’s the same thing with running. To a very large degree it is a safe activity, though older runners should be a little more careful. Yes, many people may injure themselves while training or running the marathon, but deaths are extremely rare and usually due to pre-existing health conditions.

If you have or suspect you have a serious heart condition, marathon running may not be for you. If you don’t, you have little to worry about.

Homemade blueberry wine

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Blueberry honey wine fermenting in my yard.

I don’t make honey wine or wine anymore and don’t drink it or any alcohol, but making this was a lot of fun. This is an old photo from years ago when I was a vegetarian but not a vegan. I love transformative processes like fermentation. It was so educational doing this a bunch of times. Learning to ferment food can better connect you with your food, and the environment, kind of like a gardener growing a lot of the food that they eat. Fermented food may also be good for your digestion.

This blueberry wine was so sweet and delicious. It was very fruity, bubbly and pulpy, unlike most commercial wine which is “over-refined” in my opinion, and often contains all sorts of additives(many of which aren’t vegan, but then again honey isn’t vegan either). The alcohol content was pretty low, so I wasn’t under the influence when I drank this. I don’t remember the exact recipe I used, I just remember using water, honey, and blueberries. I didn’t use any commercial yeast since yeast is in the air, so just leaving it open long enough will let in enough wild yeast.

Here is a recipe similar to the one I used: How to Make Cheap Wine

It is easier than you think. I believe this recipe is vegan, and you do not have to use yeast if you do not want to; the alcohol content will likely be lower and it will ferment more slowly without the yeast, but it is worth a shot. Some homemade wine enthusiasts will leave these things fermenting for years, letting it continue to evolve into something with a very robust, complex flavor.

Whatever you do, drink responsibly.

Joggling to Manhattan

The magenta line was my journey, from north to south and back.

The magenta line was my journey, from north to south and back. The blue line running through the middle of the map is the border between New York City and Westchester county.

This is my first time joggling to Manhattan from lower Westchester. It was a great day to do this, since it was the first official day of summer. I’ve joggled in Manhattan a few times before(taking the train to get there), and used to run there sometimes when living in the Bronx. Most of my path followed the South County trail/old Putnam trail, south through Yonkers and into the forests of Van Courtlandt Park in the north Bronx.

As the trail terminates in the southern portion of the park, I transfered to another trail and made my way to the south-western section of the park where it meets up with Route 9(Broadway). I joggled along the very busy, very hot route 9 into northern Manhattan.

To say joggling the very busy sidewalks in the Bronx and Manhattan was challenging is an understatement. Such an extreme contrast with the mostly personless Puntam trail in Yonkers and in the park. Not only did I have to run through or around large groups of people, but there were also many street vendors in the way. The bridge that connects the Bronx to Manhattan has a narrow pedestrian path, and this was especially crowded and challenging. There were of course some people who were amazed by the joggling. Everywhere, the kids love it. The streets also had a lot of traffic. I did my best to have good joggling/running etiquette, running in the street whenever it was feasible.

The entire trip, to Manhattan and back was 16.25 miles, and it took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The busy sidewalks, traffic-clogged streets, the heat(about 80 F), muscle soreness, and the upward slope of the Putnam trail as I went north all made me run a little slower than usual.

I didn’t stop at all this time to drink water or anything, except to joggle in place a few times due to busy streets. Remarkably, I didn’t drop the balls even once(though I stopped juggling for a few seconds just a few times to cross very busy streets). The really cool thing about the Putnam trail is that it has no interruptions from Van Courtlandt park to about the middle of Yonkers. Every major or minor street that crosses the trail goes under it. It’s only in northern Yonkers where the trail has to cross some streets.

I was only in Manhattan for about 40 seconds, and in the most northern neighborhood, Inwood. This is very far from Midtown and Central Park. This shows how far I was from Midtown Manhattan. The big park in the middle is Central Park and the magenta line represents my path. Still, I managed to joggle through 3 counties, Westchester county, Bronx county(only a small slice of it), and NY county(Manhattan and only very briefly).

What kind of fitness adventures are you planning for the summer?

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The best joggling site – Just Your Average Joggler

For those of you who really want to learn everything there is to know about joggling, the best site by far for this is Just Your Average Joggler. The “average” joggler who runs the site is Perry Romanowski, author and cosmetic chemist. He’s been joggling for over 2 decades, has the second longest joggling streak in the world, and holds the world record for the fastest time joggling a 50 mile ultra-marathon. He regularly joggles half-marathons and marathons, and is planning on doing a 100 mile ultra-marathon. That’s freaking amazing!

His inspirational site has great tips for beginner jogglers and as well as advanced jogglers. Also has lots of excellent, science-based general health and fitness advice, and product reviews. He closely follows the world of joggling, and his site includes interviews of many accomplished jogglers.

Although I have mentioned his site before, it deserves to be mentioned again, since his humorous site helped me get started in joggling more than any other(granted, there are very few joggling sites). Should joggling become much more popular, a lot of, if not most of the credit should go to Perry and his website. Make sure you stop by and say hello and read all you can!

Just Your Average Joggler

Exercise and multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis(MS) is a degenerative inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal cord. It’s many symptoms, which include weakness, numbness, confusion, stiffness, and blurred vision, are due to the breakdown(demylination) of the myelin sheath, which is the important layer of insulation that surrounds part of our nerve cells. Our nervous system can’t function properly without this insulation. Similarly, an electronic device can’t function properly without plastic insulation around its wires. This insulation can also, in theory, help protect a person working with the wires, unless the person happens to be me(I still have tiny burn marks all over my fingers from years of tinkering).

The ultimate cause of this disease is unknown. What we do know is that the immune system is attacking the nervous system of MS patients(or the cells fail to produce myelin). It’s like your immune system consists of nothing but traitors, if you have MS. What causes the immune system to attack the nervous system is the big mystery. For reasons not yet understood, it is more common in women. Everything from viruses to toxins to lawyers are suspected of causing this disease, but so far research hasn’t discovered anything definitive.

While there is no cure for MS, there are a variety of drugs for controlling the symptoms. They may not work for everyone, but they can help many MS sufferers be more functional.

Which brings us to the question: Can exercise help treat or prevent MS? According to Sports Medicine(2008), Exercise and brain health–implications for multiple sclerosis: Part 1–neuronal growth factors:

Abstract

The benefits of regular exercise to promote general health and reduce the risk of hypokinetic diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles are well recognized. Recent studies suggest that exercise may enhance neurobiological processes that promote brain health in aging and disease. A current frontier in the neurodegenerative disorder multiple sclerosis (MS) concerns the role of physical activity for promoting brain health through protective, regenerative and adaptive neural processes. Research on neuromodulation, raises the possibility that regular physical activity may mediate favourable changes in disease factors and symptoms associated with MS, in part through changes in neuroactive proteins. Insulin-like growth factor-I appears to act as a neuroprotective agent and studies indicate that exercise could promote this factor in MS. Neurotrophins, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor likely play roles in neuronal survival and activity-dependent plasticity. Physical activity has also been shown to up-regulate hippocampal BDNF, which may play a role in mood states, learning and memory to lessen the decline in cognitive function associated with MS. In addition, exercise may promote anti-oxidant defences and neurotrophic support that could attenuate CNS vulnerability to neuronal degeneration. Exercise exposure (preconditioning) may serve as a mechanism to enhance stress resistance and thereby may support neuronal survival under heightened stress conditions. Considering that axonal loss and cerebral atrophy occur early in the disease, exercise prescription in the acute stage could promote neuroprotection, neuroregeneration and neuroplasticity and reduce long-term disability. This review concludes with a proposed conceptual model to connect these promising links between exercise and brain health.

Source

Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA. ljwhite@uga.edu

This sounds promising. It is already known that exercise can help release nerve growth factors that can benefit the brain and nervous system, so it makes sense that it could help prevent or treat a degenerative disease of the nervous system.

It’s amazing all the different chemicals released due to exercise – it is important to note that it also helps us maximize our own antioxidant defenses. Yes, that is correct, our bodies make their own antioxidants to deal with the effects of free radicals, so you don’t need to megadose with antioxidant pills after exercise. However, it’s still a good idea to eat food rich in antioxidants, since the phytochemicals and vitamins that have these antioxidant effects may have other beneficial effects.

Now the above study doesn’t mention anything about which exercises in particular are most beneficial for MS patients. I think it is safe to assume that walking or tai chi would be beneficial.

Is there any exercise that specifically targets the brain? Why juggling of course!

According to BBC News in their article, Juggling Increases Brain Power:

Complex tasks such as juggling produce significant changes to the structure of the brain, according to scientists at Oxford University.

In the journal, Nature Neuroscience, the scientists say they saw a 5% increase in white matter – the cabling network of the brain.

The people who took part in the study were trained for six weeks and had brain scans before and after.

Long term it could aid treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Toward the end of the article:

Clinical Applications

Dr Johansen-Berg said there were clinical applications for this work but there were a long way off.

She said: “Knowing that pathways in the brain can be enhanced may be significant in the long run in coming up with new treatments for neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, where these pathways become degraded.”

Professor Cathy Price, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, said: “It’s extremely exciting to see evidence that training changes human white matter connections.

“This complements other work showing grey matter changes with training and motivates further work to understand the cellular mechanisms underlying these effects.”

As I understand it, an important component of the “white matter” in the brain is myelin, the nerve covering that slowly degenerates in MS sufferers.

It is early, but this is showing promise. Even if juggling can’t prevent this or other serious neurological diseases, I’ll still do it just because its such a fun exercise.

Embrace new challenges

IMG_1225I  have always loved this quote:

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

 

New record: 20.5 miles joggling

Screenshot from 2013-06-12 20:45:03This is a new record for me, joggling 20.5 miles. It took me 3 hours and 42 minutes to complete this journey yesterday. The magenta line on the map above was my path, starting in the south in northern Mount Vernon then following the South County trail(A former rail line) all the way up almost to Elmsford and back to Mount Vernon. The weather was dry and mostly sunny, with the temperature rising from just below 75 F(23.8 C) to almost 80 F(26.6 C) toward the end of the run in the early afternoon. I brought juice with me and had a very short break from juggling(but not running) to drink it on the return trip.

Even though I went further than my 18 mile adventure to White Plains, my overall pace has improved: 10 minutes, 50 seconds per mile this time, versus 11 minutes, 40 seconds per mile on the White Plains run. To improve my speed, I did no tricks except for “tennis” occasionally, and I dropped the balls only once during the entire run. This is yet another record, since I went 2 hours and 35 minutes(about 15 miles) before my first drop.

The South County trail is great for running and cycling. The entire trail is paved and smooth, unlike most of the Croton Aqueduct trail, so a lot of cyclists go at maximum speed. It stretches 14.1 miles from the Bronx all the way up to Elmsford in the north. It runs parallel and very close to the Saw Mill Parkway much of the time and at times highway 87. From Yonkers to about Hastings, it runs through some light industrial areas, but becomes more forested as you go further north. The trail does occasionally cross some streets, and there are few steep hills. Overall, it is less picturesque than the Croton Aqueduct trail which overlooks the Hudson river in some areas and is to the west.

The North County trail(which I am less familiar with), and South County trail, which is the one I ran on, are really the same trail, separated by a gap in the village of Elmsford. I believe they are currently working on connecting them, since the entire trail is built on an abandoned rail line. Once they are connected, this means a bike trail connecting the Bronx to Putnam county!

I’ll be drinking a lot of cherry juice, and eating a lot of nuts to help me heal from this very long run. As usual, my legs feel a more sore than my arms.

Can meditation help you learn to juggle?

IMG_1239A lot of people I know would love to learn how to juggle, but find it very difficult and eventually give up. I wish they wouldn’t give up so early. It’s such an enjoyable activity that is a great arm and mind exercise. It can also help improve hand/eye coordination.

So I am always looking for ways to make learning to juggle a lot easier. Something that may help novices throw their first 3 ball cascade flash(3 throws, 3 catches) is to meditate beforehand.

According to the Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, in the study, Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need:

RESULTS:

Novice meditators were tested on the PVT before each activity, 10 minutes after each activity and one hour later. All ten novice meditators improved their PVT reaction times immediately following periods of meditation, and all but one got worse immediately following naps. Sleep deprivation produced a slower baseline reaction time (RT) on the PVT that still improved significantly following a period of meditation. In experiments with long-term experienced meditators, sleep duration was measured using both sleep journals and actigraphy. Sleep duration in these subjects was lower than control non-meditators and general population norms, with no apparent decrements in PVT scores.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results suggest that meditation provides at least a short-term performance improvement even in novice meditators. In long term meditators, multiple hours spent in meditation are associated with a significant decrease in total sleep time when compared with age and sex matched controls who did not meditate. Whether meditation can actually replace a portion of sleep or pay-off sleep debt is under further investigation.

It looks like meditation may help improve motor skills. So if you are struggling with juggling, try meditating first. You may not have to meditate for 40 minutes to get the benefits; perhaps as little as 10 to 15 minutes may help. Above all, relax and focus, get rid of all distractions. Meditation may also come in handy when you are making the transition to joggling.

Due to the focus juggling requires(at least in the early stages), it is for good reason it has long been called an “active meditation”.

Joggling 18 miles through central Westchester county

Screenshot from 2013-06-05 17:56:29I hope my fellow jogglers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts are having as much fun as I am having this time of year.

This run took place on Wednesday, June 5th. The magenta line in the middle, from south to north and then back south to Mount Vernon was my journey. I joggled about 98% of the time, except when I had a water break and a very short bathroom break in the woods. It took me 3.5 hours to complete this 18 mile run, and the last hour was pretty rough. The juggling was so much easier than the running. There were many hills along the trail and it was a sunny day, in the low 70s, so I didn’t sweat that much. I did some juggling tricks much of the way.

I followed the Bronx river for much of the run, but then the trail that runs along it terminates in Scarsdale, amidst a lot of construction, so I had to use route 22 to get to White Plains. I’ve been drinking more cherry juice during and after long runs, and this may have helped me recover to the point that I was able to run 3 miles the day after this 18 miler, and 7.75 miles today.

Ordinarily, I just take a day off the day after very long runs. The soreness the day after this was pretty bad, but it is almost completely gone now. Remember, I don’t stretch before or after runs(scientific studies show it is useless, although I do a little back stretching and nothing else), and this may also be a factor in speedier recovery.