… so I was fired up from my NSCA conference experience. In my mind, we had two opposing observations about hydration and how it affected physiology and performance. When we did hydration studies in laboratories and climate chambers, we seemed to get a very different response to what we were seeing in field conditions. Those lab-based observations were supporting the hydration industry, and the hydration industry was doing all it could to make sure the world knew about it.
Perhaps we should begin by having a look at the hydration argument from the drink to maintain body mass to 2% side. We’ll go back to a key study that convinced most of us of that in 1992 by Scott Montain and Edward Coyle. In this study, the authors took 8 highly trained cyclists and had them cycle for 2 h at 62-67% VO2max in hot conditions (33 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, and facing a slow fan speed of 8.6 km/h). On different occasions, the cyclists randomly received no fluid (NF), a small amount of fluid (SF; 0.6L), a moderate amount of fluid (MF; 1.4L), or a large amount of fluid (LF; 2.4L) that replaced nothing, 20, 48, or 81% of their sweat losses, respectively. [pause for a moment and image how you’d feel consuming fluid in the LF condition…]
The authors showed linear relationships between those hydration levels and the core temperature increase (right), heart rate rise, and stroke volume/cardiac output decline (below). All the evidence supported the idea that drinking to maintain body mass prevented your temperature from increasing, and how much blood that your heart delivered to the rest of your body.
So back in ’92, this was pretty convincing data to support the concept that you should drink a moderate to large amount of fluid during exercise in the heat to avoid fatigue, maintain health, function best, and maximise performance.
But how then can we have situations like I came across in the field, where athletes were dehydrating by up to 4%, heart rate was stable, core temperature was stable, and performance was pretty darn good? Why didn’t my field study results mentioned in my first post line up with these laboratory data?
Maybe a couple of reasons, we thought. First, in every hydration study to that point, the subject/athlete would come into the lab, and they would know exactly which condition they were performing. When you get handed a drink (or not), you know whether you’re getting a big drink, a little drink, or nothing at all. That matters less for the physiologic data, but most certainly has an influence on performance; because word on the street was (and probably still is) that hydration affects your performance. Pygmalion effect – what you believe, will happen.
Second, while the heat and humidity in field and lab-based studies might be similar, the airflow around the athlete (wind; termed convective cooling) in most studies to that time, was clearly not. Airflow was often relatively still in the climate chamber, and typically high in the field setting. This has a profound effect on your heat load/storage, as shown nicely by Saunders et al. (2005). In this study (left), they replicated some of the Montain & Coyle (1992) conditions, except they altered the wind speed in their 2 h trials. Results showed that the wind speed affected how much heat was stored, and subsequently most of the parameters mentioned in the Montain and Coyle (1992) study (i.e., made them not matter – heat was being offloaded effectively so no issues with temperature or cardiovascular physiology).
How did we start?
Clearly, we somehow needed to address the two main problems with lab-based research interpretation in the field setting. These again we felt were more realistic airspeed on the subject, and hydration blinding. The first was easy. We took a big fan (below) and drove airflow around the cyclist at a speed near typical of outdoor riding (32 km/h), just like in the Saunders study. The second issue, blinding hydration manipulation to a participant, was a bit more complicated. Luckily for us, Greig had experience from Larry’s lab, where they had done this using intravenous saline infusion. With this, if we kept the saline bags out of sight (left), the subject had no idea whether or not they were receiving no fluid, a little fluid, or lots of fluid back into their circulation.
So with those two main differences in mind, I was fortunate to team up with my post-doctoral researcher at the time, Greig Watson. Greig is UK born, but was coming straight to me in Perth from doing his PhD in Lawrence Armstrong’s lab in the US. Now the interesting thing about Greig coming from Armstrong’s lab, was that Dr Armstrong is listed as a key author on all of the ACSM hydration position stands. So Greig would naturally be arriving in my lab with similar views. But it was clear during Greig’s interview that he could see other side of the coin, and we both agreed that there was a need for some innovative research in the area.
How it came off
Brad Wall was the Masters’ student that would run the study. To test the effect of different hydration levels in relatively ecologically-valid (i.e., real world) conditions, we had subjects dehydrate by intermittently walking on a treadmill and cycling easy in the heat for 2 hours until they lost 3% of their body mass (figure below). We then rehydrated them with saline to the levels that we felt mattered within the current debate. The ACSM position statement said 2% mattered, so lets test 2%, and beyond that level at 3%, and compare with euhydration (0%; fully hydrated). We thought that 2% wouldn’t matter, but that 3% would (i.e., we’d see evidence for many of the effects shown by Montain and Coyle and others and emphasised in the position statements).
The study was nicely run by Greig and Brad. Tight control and look how clean the body mass data was (Table 1). We were amazed at the time, because we too thought that 3% would matter, but besides core temperature being marginally (0.3C) higher, nothing really was different at all. Performance was the same – identical. Nor could subjects even tell what condition they were under. With the exception of the slight rise in temperature with 3% dehydration (water has a high specific heat; more water means more heat absorption), the amount of fluid on board made hardly any difference to physiology or performance. The complete article was just made open access and can be downloaded here. Check it out.
Why Did we Find the Results we Did?
The discussion section in our paper expands on these points, but basically we think it came down to three main factors, and these help explain the disparity between the bulk of lab-based work and real world observations. These were:
removal of sensory cues related to hydration status – subjects had no idea what condition they were under, so their brains couldn’t sabotage the experiment through any belief effect, Repeated in Stephen’s experiment too remember.
higher convective and evaporative cooling rates used – as mentioned and shown, skin and core temperatures (figure above) were for the most part the same between conditions. When the body is able to off-load its metabolic heat production, hydration status doesn’t matter. If it can’t offload its heat, such as with high humidity conditions, or maybe when moving speed slows (cycling up a hill, running), then it might start to make more of a difference. But not too much (see Saunders figure above).
the restoration of blood volume during the rehydration phase – this was a pretty neat finding for us, even though it was discovered long ago. It gets to the nitty gritty, but if you follow some of the detail in Table 1, it shows how the vascular compartment (where the blood moves; arteries, veins, etc) resisted depletion of it’s volume irrespective of how much water was in the body. So cool, and how it should be, but basically, when there was less water on board in the body, the hormones and the kidney’s kicked into action to adjust blood volume to just the right amount needed function optimally, despite a total body water deficit of up to 3%. Physiology is cool eh?
So what can we conclude from all this? For me, as a practitioner advising coaches and athletes on how to maximize performance, I think the most logical thing you can take from all of this, is that hydration really isn’t that important beyond basic common sense. Hydration status, at least to 3% body mass loss, which is a fair amount, really doesn’t matter much to performance. The latest review article on the topic, lead by Jim Cotter and is open access, puts the issue to bed in my view.
While ours is only one study, it was especially pleasing to see my colleague Stephen Cheung confirm the finding for us in a recent study, written nicely in lay terms by Alex Hutchinson. Stephen mostly replicated our design, but added one additional piece by having subjects’ mouth rinse to alleviate some thirst. Again, performance was the same across the board. Nothing from the hydration status standpoint mattered for performance.
And just to be clear, I’m most certainly not saying here not to drink when you train or perform. All I’m saying is that we probably shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about this item. Common sense prevails – have fluids available and consume according to thirst. If you want an action strategy around your fluids that helps, try to have those fluids be ice cold to enhance performance in the heat. You’re brain’s inbuilt mechanisms relating to thirst will guide fluid volume to what it needs.
Take home message as covered nicely by the CBC in Canada.
Plews and Prof key messages
- In this study, when cyclist’s were unaware of their dehydration level, performance and physiology were unaffected to 3% dehydration.
- For training and racing in the heat, current best practice advice is to simply ensure that cold fluids are available.
- Then, if you are thirsty, drink. Everything else is just marketing.
Polarised to Pyramidal Training Intensity Distribution: The Principle of Specificity is Key
A new blog post has been a long time coming (we’ve been busy!; me doing some training, work and the addition of a little girl and Prof writing a book), and with Ironman NZ behind us for another year, it’s given me the chance to write something I’ve been wanting to express for some time.
I love a bit of social media interaction. Whilst I’m not the most vocal, I do enjoy keeping an eye on the latest hot topics in the world of endurance sports and Ironman Triathlon. Over the past few months or so, “polarized training” has become a real buzz word in the triathlon training world. Particularly Ironman. But is this really the best way to train when considering an event like Ironman? Here is a spin on it from Plews and Prof.
Training intensity distribution and polarised training
When we refer to training intensity distribution (TID), we are talking about how much of the time we spend in low, moderate and high training intensity zones.
Figure 1 shows a great illustration of the zones we’re talking about from the father on the topic for us, Professor Stephen Seiler, which I’ll use throughout this essay. Have a read of his 2009 paper if you want to really geek out. In a nutshell, there are generally two main models of TID that have dominated the literature. These are namely the polarised (1) and the threshold (2) models of training. The polarised model was first described within the training performed by the East German system from 1970-80, whereby a high volume of low-intensity training appeared balanced against regular application of high-intensity training bouts (~90% to >100% VO2max). This was partially confirmed in 2004 by Fiskerstrand & Seiler (1), who showed a “polarized” pattern of training also when they explained the training and performance characteristics of 28 international Norwegian rowers developing across the years 1970-2001. This polarised model is said to be described as performing about 75-80% of your training at a low intensity (<2 mM blood lactate), 5% at threshold intensity (~4 mM blood lactate), and 15-20% at high intensity (>4 mM blood lactate) (3). This training organization contrasts the classic threshold model (~57% low intensity, 43% threshold, 0% high-intensity (4)) of endurance training, whereby large volumes of mid-zone threshold work is thought to be optimal (2). This former study on world class international rowers provided evidence to support the importance of the polarized training model for endurance athletes striving to be the best in the world, and subsequently has been largely adopted by athletes across many endurance sports. (5,6)
Iron distances races: Racing in the black hole
What’s very interesting about the polarized training method as it relates to Ironman, is that most of the research has been carried out in sports where race pace intensity is above the second (“anaerobic”) threshold. Sports like rowing 7 for example, (where much of the TID research has been done), is closer to VO2max intensity. To illustrate, Figure 2 shows an example of the typical intensity breakdown over a 2 km rowing race (split into the three-zone model), where the majority of time spent during the 6-8 min race is above the heart rate associated with the anaerobic threshold. Even in a cycling road race there would be substantial amounts of time spent in the low intensity bandwidth (below the first aerobic threshold, whilst sat in the peloton), alongside shorter times spent above the second threshold (closing gaps, making breaks etc.).
Comparatively, the intensity distribution of Ironman racing is vastly different, with most of the time being spent in the moderate intensity bandwidth. Figure 3 shows my HR distribution during the Taupo 70.3 event in December 2017. From this, its clear that most of the ~4h race duration is spent at a moderate exercise intensity. To take this a step further, we can look at my race for Ironman New Zealand 2017, where there is even more time spent in the moderate intensity heart rate bandwidth (Figure 4).
When looking at Figures 3 and 4, keep in mind that the moderate intensity training bandwidth is quite large (145-160 b.min-1 cycling and 150-165 b.min-1 running). The Ironman distance mostly happens in the low end of this bracket (average and max HR for bike and run respectively = 145/157 and 151/163 b.min-1) while the 70.3 distance occurs near the top (154/161 and 164/176 b.min-1)
Pyramidal Model of Training Intensity Distribution
More recently, a number of retrospective studies have put forth another model of TID for cycling, (8) running, (9) and triathlon, (10) termed the “pyramidal” model. Here, most training is still carried out at low intensity, however there are decreasing proportions of threshold and high-intensity training performed. This is a model less discussed that many might not be familiar with. Indeed, we often assume that an athlete who is not polarized in their TID must be in the “threshold” model by default. However, published research has revealed this middle-ground model that we need to appreciate.
Exact defining percentage breakdowns of the Pyramidal model have yet to be clearly established, however this general implies ~25-30% and 5-10% of TID at moderate and high intensity training levels, respectively, with the balance being low intensity training (50-70%). (3) As such, within the pyramidal model of TID, we expect to see less training time at a low and high training intensity, and more time at moderate training intensity. From a specificity standpoint, this middle ground training is much closer to the demands of ironman racing (Figures 3 and 4). Thus, when race day approaches, and training sessions become more “specific” and closer to race intensity, it stands to reason that perhaps the Pyramidal model may particularly suit long course triathletes.
Figure 5, shows my TID during one week in the month of January 2018 (competition phase) before the New Zealand National Middle-Distance Champs. As we can see, my TID certainly fell in line with the Pyramidal model.
Take home points
For Ironman distance racing, or any sport preparation for that matter, we have to consider the principle of specificity. For Ironman, as we are still working in an aerobic event, building aerobic endurance is of key importance. Thus, however you’re skinning it in your Ironman training, a fundamental principle needs to be an aerobic foundation. Ideally, we should be working within a range of TID, that span across the polarized (80/20) and pyramidal (60/40) models, depending on the phase of the training cycle. For example, early season training might look more polarized, while pyramidal may appear to form, as we get closer to racing.
One final point, it that we must also acknowledge the role of athlete health (11) and the stress that training places on the autonomic nervous system (12,13) when substantial amounts of training time are performed above VT1. Thus, future research may want to consider describing the optimal durations of pyramidal and polarized training phases in the diets of Ironman athletes.
1. Fiskerstrand A, Seiler KS. Training and performance characteristics among Norwegian international rowers 1970-2001. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004;14:303-10.
2. Seiler S. What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2010;5:276-91.
3. Stoggl TL, Sperlich B. The training intensity distribution among well-trained and elite endurance athletes. Front Physiol 2015;6:295.
4. Neal CM, Hunter AM, Brennan L, et al. Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists. J Appl Physiol (1985) 2013;114:461-71.
5. Laursen PB. Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training? Scand J Med Sci Sports 2010;20 1-10.
6. Seiler KS, Kjerland GO. Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution? Scand J Med Sci Sports 2006;16:49-56.
7. Plews D, Laursen PB. Training intensity distribution over a four-year cycle in Olympic champion rowers: different roads lead to Rio. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 2017;In Press.
8. Lucia A, Hoyos J, Pardo J, Chicharro JL. Metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations to endurance training in professional cyclists: a longitudinal study. Jpn J Physiol 2000;50:381-8.
9. Esteve-Lanao J, San Juan AF, Earnest CP, Foster C, Lucia A. How do endurance runners actually train? Relationship with competition performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2005;37:496-504.
10. Neal CM, Hunter AM, Galloway SD. A 6-month analysis of training-intensity distribution and physiological adaptation in Ironman triathletes. J Sports Sci 2011;29:1515-23.
11. Maffetone PB, Laursen PB. Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy? Sports Med Open 2015;2:24.
12. Plews DJ, Laursen PB, Kilding AE, Buchheit M. Heart-rate variability and training-intensity distribution in elite rowers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2014;9:1026-32.
13. Seiler S, Haugen O, Kuffel E. Autonomic recovery after exercise in trained athletes: intensity and duration effects. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007;39:1366-73
Runners’ Toenail Problems: Do Triathletes Even Need Nails?
Quick summary: If you’ve spent a lot of time training for triathlons, you may have experienced problems like black, thickened, or ingrown toenails. You may have lost toenails now and then as well. These issues affect the big toe most of all. Some runners and triathletes avoid these problems by having them surgically removed. Is that a smart idea? Do you really need your toenails?
Causes of toenail problems for triathletes
- Ingrown toenails are caused by repeated stress that drives the toenail into the soft flesh of the toe, combined with growth of either the toenail or the skin of the toe. This can cause a lot of pain and a few visits to the doctor.
- Black toenails are caused by repeated contact between the toenail and the shoe. This causes bleeding, and it may turn the toenail black. The blood can cause the toenail to separate from the toe, opening you up to bacterial and fungal infections before another toenail grows in its place.
- Permanent toenail thickening occurs when damage to the root, or “matrix”, of the nail causes it to become deformed. The nail will grow according to the new shape of the root. It will often grow thicker and look grey or yellow, like a fungal infection. This condition is permanent and can harm your triathlon performance.
What happens if you have your toenails surgically removed?
The flesh underneath your toenails is very sensitive. However, if you have your toenails removed, the flesh normally grows thicker, tougher, and far less sensitive. If you have cosmetic concerns, you can add nail polish to this area. People won’t be able to tell the difference unless they’re near you. The doctor will use either a laser or a chemical, and the procedure is painless.
On the other hand, there are some people whose toes won’t create that protective layer of skin. You could be one of them. The only way to find out is to have your nails removed.
The verdict: Whether you have toenails or not won’t affect your running ability. An ingrown toenail will until you have it treated. A permanently thickened nail will also affect your speed and endurance, and that’s not treatable.
Your two options are prevention and surgery. As a triathlete, you’re going to have cosmetic issues. That’s just a fact. If you’re not into the idea of surgical removal, there are some steps you can take to minimize damage to your toenails.
- Wear the correct size shoes. A shoe that fits well will prevent all the microtrauma that can cause bleeding under the nails.
- Keep the nails well trimmed. If they’re even a little bit too long, they can cause shoe-related trauma on the inclines and declines.
- Use skin lubricant. This will prevent a lot of soreness, bruising, and other problems caused by accumulated trauma. This is a method Dr Christopher Seglar, a San Francisco sports medicine podiatrist and triathlete, uses on long runs of 30 kilometres or more. His toes are fine on shorter runs. However, if you train a lot, you may want to use skin lubricant for those, too.
Women Are Naturally More Fit Than Men, Study Shows
Quick oxygen uptake places less strain on the body’s cells and is considered an important measure of aerobic fitness.
“The findings are contrary to the popular assumption that men’s bodies are more naturally athletic,” said Thomas Beltrame, lead author on the study.
The study compared oxygen uptake and muscle oxygen extraction between 18 young men and women of similar age and weight during treadmill exercise. Women consistently outperformed men with around 30 percent faster oxygen handling throughout the body.
“We found that women’s muscles extract oxygen from the blood faster, which, scientifically speaking, indicates a superior aerobic system,” said Richard Hughson, a professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, and Schlegel Research Chair in Vascular Aging and Brain Health at Waterloo.
By processing oxygen faster, women are less likely to accumulate molecules linked with muscle fatigue, effort perception and poor athletic performance.
“While we don’t know why women have faster oxygen uptake, this study shakes up conventional wisdom,” said Beltrame. “It could change the way we approach assessment and athletic training down the road.”
Materials provided by University of Waterloo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- Thomas Beltrame, Rodrigo Villar, Richard L. Hughson. Sex differences in the oxygen delivery, extraction, and uptake during moderate-walking exercise transition. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2017; 42 (9): 994 DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2017-0097
Should Triathletes Get Regular Heart Tests and Should You Care About Myocardial Fibrosis?
Are triathletes at risk of myocardial fibrosis? New evidence has shown triathletes may be at increased risk of myocardial fibrosis (MF); a nasty condition where scarred or fibrotic tissue replaces heart muscle cells. A recent study out of Germany looked at 55 men and 30 women and found a clear link between MF and male triathletes.
While the study has limitations, it did make us wonder about how triathlon can adversely affect the heart.
Why you should care about myocardial fibrosis
‘Myocardial fibrosis (MF) is a common phenomenon in the late stages of diverse cardiac diseases and is a predictive factor for sudden cardiac death,’ says an article by Freek et al in 2016.
So in other words, MF can kill you. But how?
Myocardial fibrosis can cause arrhythmia; a sometimes fatal abnormal heartbeat pattern. Whether the arrhythmia has caused your heart to beat too fast, too slow, too irregularly or too early; if you suffer from arrhythmia, you’re in trouble.
How does this study say triathlon causes myocardial fibrosis?
During high intensity, endurance events, systolic blood pressure increases. This increase may result in a greater myocardial mass, which may put an athlete at a higher risk of myocarditis; inflammation of the heart muscle.
If the heart becomes inflamed due to exercise often enough, it is believed it can lead to the heart replacing muscle with fibrotic tissue that isn’t as spongy, responsive or powerful as normal heart tissue known as myocardial fibrosis.
How did they prove myocardial fibrosis?
The study used a contrast and examined it under MRI. Evidence of myocardial fibrosis was apparent in the left ventricle — the heart’s main pumping chamber — in 10 of 55 of the men, or 18 percent, but in none of the women.
Why don’t the women have myocardial fibrosis?
“Comparison of the sport’s history showed that females had a tendency to complete shorter distances compared to male triathletes. This supports the concept that blood pressure and race distances could have an impact on the formation of myocardial fibrosis,” said study leader Dr Starekova.
Sorry Dr, but we all know this isn’t true for female Ironman competitors who compete and train over massive distances. This seems to point to the fact the scientists really don’t know why more men were at risk than women.
Has myocardial fibrosis caused death in endurance athletes before?
Yes. One study showed the results of a post-mortem cardiac exam performed on a marathon runner who died suddenly. It found his death was caused by enlargement of his left ventricle and myocardial fibrosis. In this case, it was a series of fatal arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats that caused the sudden death of the athlete.
“Life-long, repetitive bouts of arduous physical activity resulted in the fibrous replacement of the myocardium, causing a pathological substrate for the propagation of fatal arrhythmias,” was the official summary.
In other words? The marathon runner’s heart had become stiffer, which lead to an irregular heartbeat that caused death.
Another study looked at the hearts of 51 healthy male Ironman athletes to see if any changes occurred. They found:
- Those who trained at higher volumes had larger left ventricles
- Those with significantly larger left ventricles (chambers of the heart) also had greater blood pressure at an aerobic or anaerobic threshold.
They recommended these athletes (who experienced higher blood pressure) should undertake interventions to prevent stiffening of the heart or MF.
Does triathlon definitely cause myocardial fibrosis?
No. The study only looked at 85 subjects which is definitely not enough to make solid conclusions, especially considering contrasting evidence.
A number of studies have disputed the link between triathlon and MF. Leschik and Spelsberg said, “The idea of exercise-induced cardiac disease was suggested by Heidbüchel and LaGerche but the data are controversial.”
In some athletes, studies have found left ventricular hypertrophy and myocardial fibrosis which causes arrhythmia, but in many others, these abnormalities were absent.
Should you be worried about your heart?
Despite all studies concluding further research is needed, we do know a few things:
- Triathlon can cause changes in your heart and CAN cause MF
- Triathlon can lead to cardiac arrest in men > 60 years old
- Risk probability in ambitious triathletes >35 years old is high, so cardiac testing may be important
- Those most at risk of developing cardiac changes (men training at large volumes) should be identified early through testing
- Triathletes experience significant peaks in blood pressure and changes to their left ventricles are recommended to undertake a prevention program
- Ideal training dosages that prevent cardiac changes from occurring is not yet known, but there may be a tipping point of systolic blood pressure that leads to MF
While the new study out of Germany does have some compelling evidence, the study group was small, and there is no cause for alarm. The recommendations that young pros should be screened may be of value though and could be something handy to remember for coaches of young, keen athletes.
How Exercise Enhances The Brain – Benefits For The Busy Triathlete
We all know exercise is good for our health, but new science tells us exercise is great for our brains too. Scientists have proven exercise can improve memory and learning in animals, but a new study out of Canada proves humans can improve memory and brain activity thanks to high-intensity exercise.
Previous studies showed exercise promotes ‘Miracle Gro’ for the brain
Last year, scientists at New York University’s Langone Medical Center decided to look at the impact of exercise on the brains of mice. They placed healthy mice into two groups; group one had a running wheel in their cage, while group two had no wheel. After a month in the cages, the scientists looked at the differences between the mice’s brains.
The exercise group showed higher levels of B.D.N.F, which is a protein some scientists label as ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain. This snazzy protein helps neurones grow and strengthens synapses which are the ways nerve impulses signal to each other.
Exercise ‘switches on’ a healthy brain protein
B.D.N.F is produced by a gene that occurs in all mice but was largely concealed in sedentary mice.
For those chubby mice that sat around all day, there was a thick barrier of molecules that surrounded this gene preventing it from being switched on.
In contrast, in the sporty mice, the barrier was flimsy, allowing the gene to switch on, producing more B.D.N.F to promote brain health and improve learning and memory.
If you’re getting lost in the acronyms, don’t worry; the key takeaway is that exercising improves your brain’s function overall.
Those findings are fairly general though, so new scientists wanted to look at memory improvements in humans.
New evidence shows memory improvement thanks to exercise
A new study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience looks at how high-intensity exercise effects the memories of a group of ninety-five college students.
Scientists divided the students into three groups:
- Exercise only
- Exercise and cognitive training (combined)
- No exercise or cognitive training (control)
The exercise comprised of 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training at the university’s physiology lab three-times per week. High intensity was chosen as it a very “strong physical stimulus” which was thought to create the most cardiovascular change in young people.
What is brain training?
If you’re wondering what cognitive training is, you’re not the only one. In this study, scientists used general mental training consisting of memorising similar faces, then matching correct faces as they appeared randomly on a computer screen.
Why faces? The memory required to recognise and memorise details on the human face is a very specific, yet important type of memory. It was just one type of memory that could have been measured in the study.
What did they find after 6 weeks?
- Everyone who exercised enjoyed better fitness (obviously…)
- Almost everyone who exercised performed better on the memory test, including quickly differentiating between similar objects despite this not being part of the brain training
- Those who’s fitness improved the most, experienced greatest memory enhancements
Biggest improvements in fitness saw other improvements
- Individuals who enjoyed the greatest fitness improvements from the training also had higher levels of neural growth factors.
- Those who enjoyed the biggest increase in fitness also enjoyed improvements in high-interference memory performance.
“In effect, more fitness resulted in stronger memories,” says Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor at McMaster University who led the study. “The brain training adds to that effect, even for a type of memory that was not part of the training,” Heiz told The New York Times.
No fitness improvements show little memory improvement
In contrast, those who had the smallest improvements in fitness also had only slight improvements in memory. Dr Heisz thinks this may be because the exercise may have been too intense for these individuals. “It’s possible that they would have developed a better response with different and perhaps more-moderate exercise,” Heisz says.
How you can have better memory
It’s simple; add some memory tasks to your workouts before and after getting sweaty. “I would suggest memorising the details of a painting or landscape” — or perhaps a loved one’s face — before or after each workout, Heisz says. “It could provide broader memory benefits all around.”
Benefits for the busy triathlete
If you’re a busy triathlete juggling home life, your social life, training and work; this study proves you can enjoy benefits across multiple areas in your life by combining your efforts. Add a bit of mental stimulation before and after a workout, and you’ll feed your brain. Both studies prove this will not only enhance memory but also strengthen your brain as a whole.
Stop the Watts – Are You Missing the Point?
A good friend of mine is obsessed with data. He would argue it’s a healthy obsession and suggests data is critical and closely linked to improved performance in sport. While I appreciate that quality data can assist, my cycling and past in triathlon exploits have been driven by a healthy understanding of self before data.
Having had the pleasure of training with legends of triathlon such as Jason Shortis, I learned and adopted methods based on gut feel and listening to the mind and body. Tools for measuring performance have certainly advanced quickly in recent years and I’m gradually converting to smart trainers and the world of Zwift.
The real data nuts out there will even argue that measure of fatigue, sleep and emotions etc can be tracked. It’s certainly has been interesting to observe the switch from ‘old school’ training methods towards scientifically backed training and racing methods.
But are we missing the bigger picture?
When did you last ride without a Garmin or cycling computer? Perhaps it’s your cycling friends that frantically upload images to socials in chase of likes? It seems we’re more concerned about how doughnuts look on Instagram rather than the conversation held with friends while eating the doughnut.
Whether you’re directly or indirectly involved in this behaviour, Adam Alter suggests we need to ‘demetricate’ during exercise. What does demetricate mean? No, it’s not getting rid of the metric system in this particular context. Demetricating (might be making up words now) is about getting back to the enjoyment of exercise and putting data or screens aside, even if it’s for a session or two each week.
A keen runner himself, Adam is an academic and author who predominantly focuses on judgment and decision-making and social psychology. He was first introduced to demetricating during exercise by a friend that places tape over his watch when running. The intent of this is to get back to the joys, feeling, and emotions of running… being in the moment.
The benefits of demetricating, or reducing screen time are overwhelming. During the past few weeks, my data-loving friend and I have partaken in a little experiment whereby we can’t use a phone, cycling computers or smart watches to measure our activity. We took it another level and installed free apps such as Moment and Quality Time to track and restrict phone usage.
The results were outstanding, yet not surprising. Improved relationships, better conversations, decreased anxiety and a greater sense of happiness just to name a few. The best bit of this trial? Since introducing some tech and screen time back into exercise, my watts have improved!
News & Racing2 weeks ago
Australia Takes Gold in Commonwealth Games Mixed Relay Triathlon, Gentle Celebrates Big Comeback
News & Racing1 week ago
Challenge Roma – The First Big European Challenge Event In 2018
News & Racing2 weeks ago
Javier Gomez and Five Time ITU World Champion To Race Ironman Cairns
News & Racing2 weeks ago
XTERRA New Zealand returns to Rotorua for 16th year this Saturday
News & Racing2 weeks ago
Duffy, Schoeman Win Commonwealth Games Triathlon, Brownlees Slowed by Prior Injuries
News & Racing1 week ago
Laura Siddall Looks To Go Back To Back at Ironman Australia
News & Racing1 week ago
Challenge Family Introduces A World Ranking For Pro-athletes
Gear & Tech1 week ago
Review: SunGod PaceBreaker sunglasses – Look Cool While Dropping Watt Bombs