Sunday, December 30, 2018

The "What The Hell" Effect

All mine
This time of the year is usually special for most people. For our family, it is filled with holidays, parties and feasting. Christmas has just passed and we have New Year's day soon.
My wife and older boy's birthday is next week followed by my younger boy's birthday at the end of January. In between we have cousins, nephews and nieces celebrating birthdays and Chinese New Year after that.

For those of you who are done with training and racing, it must be nice relaxing and recovering both physically and mentally. It's also a good time to take stock of your season, to reflect and review so you can learn from it and do better next season.

Hopefully, you haven't been like me (eating too much) and piling on the pounds. I read about the "what the hell" effect which describes the the cycle where you indulge (and eat too much), regret what you've done and then go back for more.
Lots of jelly still ......
Your brain rationalizes your behavior by telling you that you already blew your goal of eating only two fruit tartlets, so what the hell, you might as well eat the whole tray. The phrase originally came from dieting researchers, but the effect may be applied to any setback or willpower challenge.

You definitely don't want the whole of this period to be a long "what the hell", if not it will take you a fair bit of time to regain your previous fitness levels.

I find it helpful during the holiday period to just do something first thing in the morning. A short run, a spin on the stationary bike or some weights is usually what I do now. Even if I do over indulge, I know that I'd already done some exercise to help my overeating.

Don't be dismayed that your weight has gone up during this period. Think of it as having increased glycogen (carbohydrate) stores that you can use on your next long run/ bike session.

Those potato chips or crisps (or other Christmas goodies) that you've snacked on also contains salt. Consumed in excess, salt causes more water to be absorbed into your system. That excess water can also show up as extra weight when you weigh yourself. The good news is extra water is easier to lose than fat.

Lack of sleep from family gatherings, office parties etc can have a impact on your weight too, Research shows that lack of sleep makes you eat more. Since you've trained all year round it's hard to lose everything that you've built up just don't overdo it.

While I was still racing, I never train for up til two weeks after my racing season ended. Yes, two weeks of no cycling, running or swimming to recuperate. I think of the rest period as taking a few steps back so I can move forward over the new year.

Then I'll pick a date on which I'll start to train again. I don't expect to be at the same level, physically or mentally. The time off usually makes my legs "start to itch" so I know I'm ready to start training again.

This is the last post for 2018, thank you for reading and Happy New Year to all.


Polivy J and Herman CP (1985). Dieting And Bingeing: ACausal Analysis: Am Psych 40(2). 193-201. DOI: 10.1037/0003-0666X.402.193.

Prinz P (2004). Sleep, Appetite, And Obesity- What Is The Link? PLos Med. 1(3): e61. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Running, Weight Training And Your Tongue Muscles

Michael Jordan and his tongue. I like Rodman too!
Last week, I wrote about why strength training and aerobic exercises are both critical to us aging well. I'm sure most of us kinda knew that already.

Turns out now that exercise, particularly endurance exercises may be useful in preventing and perhaps even treating sleep apnea and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Your tongue, just like the rest of your body, was made to move.

Let me present the latest benefits of exercising. VanRavenhorst-Bell and colleagues (2018) has shown that exercise is associated with greater tongue strength and endurance. Just as written before, not all exercises are equal.

Before you start laughing or stop reading this post, consider the following information.  You'll need good strong tongue muscles to keep your airways open while you sleep (to prevent sleep apnea). If the slow twitch muscle fibers at the back of your tongue lack endurance, it increases your chances of mouth breathing and sleep apnea.

The fast twitch muscles near the front of your tongue is important for swallowing. Our tongue muscles do get weaker as we age, which can lead to dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), making it easier for you to choke.

Ideally, you you need great endurance at the back of your tongue to avoid airway breathing problems and great strength at the front of your tongue to prevent swallowing problems.

In their study comparing weight lifters and runners who trained at least four times a week, weightlifters were found to have greater maximal tongue strength and runners have greater endurance. Reason being weightlifters would use the front of the tongue to produce forceful inhales and exhales while the rhythmic panting of endurance runners would help in greater tongue endurance.
Here's a runner with his tongue out
If you're keen to know how they test tongue strength have a look here.

So here's another reason reinforcing that there's way more physical benefits to exercising then what we know. We are definitely made to move.


VanRavenhorst-Bell HA, Coufal KL et al (2018). A Comparative Study: Tongue Muscle Performance in Weightlifters And Runners. Physiol Rep/ 6(22): e13923. DOI: 10.14814/phy2.13923.

Read the article here.

Here's 2 pictures of Michael Jordan when he was way younger.
Winning shot for North Carolina in 1982 in college
With a young John Stockton 
All the pictures I took with my iPhone X from this book "For the love of the game".
Since Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman retired, I hardly watch the NBA now.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Aerobic Exercises Key To Aging Well?

Me on the left. Picture by Jeffrey Keng from Cycleworx
Slightly more than a year ago, I wrote that strength training may be just as important (if not more) than aerobic exercises. Why? Strength training has been found to decrease rates of early and cancer related death.

And earlier this year I disagreed with a funded study by Les Mills International when the article suggested that lifting weights was more beneficial for losing weight compared to running or cycling (aerobic exercises).

Now, some new research seems to show that aerobic exercises (like running, cycling, rowing or swimming) can make our cells younger. That same study found that weight training may not cause the same physiological changes in our cells.

Way back in 2009, a study found that competitive middle-aged runners had extended telomeres compared to inactive people of the same age. What are telomeres? All of us have telomeres at the tips of our chromosomes. Telomeres help protect our cells from damage and have been found to shorten and fray as a cell ages.

Many of the researchers in that 2009 study came together for this recent study to investigate whether exercise would change our telomeres.  They also wanted to know what type of exercise were needed and whether intensity played a part. It is hypothesized by the scientists that exercise helps lengthen the telomeres.

The researchers recruited a group of healthy middle aged men and women who did not exercise. They were tested for  their aerobic fitness and telomere length. In addition, blood markers of telomerase (an enzyme that influences telomere length) were tested as well.

Some in this group were randomly assigned to continue with their lives as normal as a control group. They did no exercises.

Others started a supervised program of brisk walking or running for 45 minutes three times a week or a high intensity interval program of four minutes of strenuous exercise followed by four minute rests with this repeated four times.

A third group took up weight training, doing a circuit of resistance exercises three times a week.

Heart rates were monitored and the exercise program was carried out for six months. Results were tested after this and all the subjects who exercised were found to be more aerobically fit.

At molecular level however, there were differences. Those who did the aerobic exercises and interval training had much longer telomeres than before starting the exercise program and more telomerase activity.

Those who weight trained and those in the control group (who did not exercise) had no change in telomere length. Some even had shortened telomere lengths.

Those who did weight training produced less nitric oxide, which is thought to affect telomerse activity and contribute to lengthening telomeres.

Even though weight training was strenuous, overall heart rate was lower compared to running in the study. This results in less blood flow and probably less physiological response from the blood vessels.

The researchers suggested that exercise needs to be aerobically taxing to extend telomere length and slow cellular level aging. In this aspect, endurance exercise was clearly ahead of resistance training.

The findings do not indicate that weight training does not combat aging as it also helped improved fitness, which itself is a very important indicator of longevity.

Like I wrote before, current research shows that both strength training and aerobic exercises are necessary to be healthy and functional. So run, bike or lift weights, (or whatever exercise you prefer) as they are all beneficial, it's much more important to keep moving.

I wanna for live a long time, so I lift weights too


Werner CM, Furster T et al (2009). Physical Exercise Prevents Cellular Senescence In Circulating Leococytes And In The Vessel Wall. Circulation. 120 (24): 2438-2437. DOI: 10.1161/CirculationHA.109.861005.

Werner CM, Hecksteden A (2018). Differential Effects Of Endurance, Interval And Resistance Training On Telomerase Activity And Telomere Length In A Randomized Controlled Trial. Euro Heart J. ehy585.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Is Drinking Too Much Sparkling Water Bad for You?

In the fridge of our rented house 
One of the houses we rented during our recent trip had some fizzy (or sparkling) drinking water in the fridge. My younger boy tried it and seemed to like it. It was just a novelty to him. At home in Singapore, we drink filtered water and my wife doesn't allow our boys any sodas or fizzy drinks.

On the topic of sodas, some of you may remember I used to drink lots of Coca Cola while I was still competing. Actually until just before my accident. Sometimes I still get an urge to drink them, especially after a long bike ride.

Very few things beat the refreshing taste of an ice cold Coke or 100 Plus after a tough workout. One of my patients tells me he drinks sparkling Perrier water with lime to get the refreshing sensation without the sugar. He was also concerned about whether the bubbles (or carbonation) was bad for his teeth.
What my patient drinks after exercise
Yes, remember I wrote previously about how endurance athletes had significantly higher rates of tooth erosion.

So I decided to do a little search. Here's what I found regarding sparkling water. Unlike sports drinks, the carbonation in the sparking water will probably not erode your enamel and wear out your teeth (Reddy et al, 2016). Since sparkling water has no phosphoric acid, it won't affect your calcium absorption and leech the calcium from your bones.

Unlike here in Singapore, sparkling water is very popular in the United States of America and Europe. In America, sales of sparkling water from La Croix went from $10 million in 2010 to $667 million in 2016.

So the evidence seems to suggest that plain carbonated (or sparkling) water is just as hydrating and healthy as regular (flat) water. Just be wary of the flavored varieties as some may have added sugar. That's when your dental health may be affected if your consume too much of it.

 If your crave some flavor, I'll recommend adding some fruit. I often add lemons (yes, you read correctly) in my drinking bottle while cycling.
Lemons in my cycling bottle
Other than lemons, at home I like mint and watermelons. But that's just me.


Avanija R, Norris DF et al (2016). The PH Of Beverages In The United States. J Am Dental Assoc. 147(4): 255-263. DOI: 10.1016/j.adaj.2015.10.019.

Plain sparking water is best