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The Perfect Push Up

The Perfect Push Up Exercise Gimmick Although push-ups are the most rudimentary exercise in existence, multiple companies have produced ridiculous gimmicks to help you do the Perfect Push-up!

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Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist Obesity Panacea has been named a Finalist for the 2010 Research Blogging Awards! You can see all the nominees by clicking on the link below.

Nutella - Delicious? Yes! Nutritious? Probably not.

Thursday, April 30, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 4 Responses
Image by love janine.
Although this may surprise some of our readers, I really like junk food. I eat far too much pizza, I love chicken wings, and Nutella, the original chocolate hazelnut spread, is one of my favourite breakfast condiments (it's tasty on a bagel, but its unbeatable inside a fresh crepe with whipped cream and bananas). The interesting thing about Nutella is that its commercials seem to suggest that it is some sort of health food. For example, check out the French Nutella commercial below (for our email subscribers, click on the title of today's post to view the video on main page). Unfortunately I couldn't find any English Nutella commercials, but I have put my functional bilingualism to work by attempting to translate it for you myself:

There's a lot to experience in the life of a child
Lots of energy to expend...
To play
To dream
To concentrate
So much energy...
To try
And try again
To learn
To grow up
To discover the world

Hazelnuts and creamy milk:
Nutella - it takes energy to be a kid

Now that commercial implies several things. First off, it implies that Nutella is a great source of energy, especially for kids. Well it should be a great source of energy - the first ingredient is sugar. In fact, in a 19 gram serving of Nutella, 11 grams are sugar. Of course that energy won't last very long before an insulin spike kicks in and makes the kids lethargic, so they are likely to need something more substantial if they plan to "discover the world" for more than an hour or so.

The commercial also implies that Nutella is mainly hazelnuts and milk. However, hazelnuts only make up 13% of Nutella, and skimmed milk makes up less than 7%. I should mention that the ingredients which go into Nutella vary slightly by country, such that while skimmed milk is used in North America, skimmed milk powder is used in most European countries. So while there are a few hazelnuts and at least some skimmed milk products in Nutella, they are drastically outnumbered by the other, less wholesome ingredients.

Many Nutella ads, including those on their American website which can be found here, suggest that Nutella is not only a great source of energy, but is also a nutritious way to start your day. What type of nutrients? After sugar, the second most common ingredient in Nutella is palm oil. The same palm oil which is high in palmitic acid, a fatty acid which the World Health Organization claims is convincingly linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease (see the report here, and skip to page 98 for the info on palmitic acid). In fact, roughly half the calories in Nutella are from sugar, and the other half are from fat. Only about 4% of the calories are from protein. The Nutella website also suggests that Nutella is healthy because it "is made with hazelnuts which are a great source of vitamins." Note that they don't say that Nutella is a great source of vitamins, because it's not - a single serving has 0% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamins A and C, and just 10% of the recommended intake of Vitamin E.

Despite all of these things, the makers of Nutella still claim that it can be part of a complete breakfast. How is that possible? The complete breakfast that they suggest includes multigrain bread and juice (which many people would argue is still not an ideal breakfast), but the point is that the breakfast is complete without the Nutella. If there's anything that I learned from commercials during Saturday morning cartoons, it's that anything can be part of a complete breakfast! That doesn't make it healthy food choice.

Despite all of these things, I'm not going to stop eating Nutella - just like I've never stopped eating pizza or drinking pop. Just don't let the good folks at Nutella convince you that it's a healthy option, especially for kids.

Thanks to my awesome cousin Gina O'Leary for suggesting this topic, and to my (equally awesome) girlfriend Daun for stopping me whenever I reach for the Nutella too frequently.


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An emerging obesity epidemic in the developing world

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 1 Response
Photo by Felicia Webb

[Note: Today’s post comes courtesy of a section of my PhD comprehensive exam that I wrote last summer.]

Obesity and chronic diseases have historically been a problem exclusive to affluent, developed countries, while developing regions of the world have had an entirely opposite public health crisis – that is, widespread undernutrition, famine, and a high prevalence of infections diseases. However, as of recent years, there has been a growing recognition of an emerging epidemic of obesity in the developing societies of Africa, Asia, and South America.

In many transitioning societies, the emerging epidemic of obesity and associated chronic disease exists alongside the remaining widespread problems of malnutrition and infections diseases, leading to what has been termed the double burden of disease. In fact, it is fairly common among developing countries to find underweight and overweight persons living in the same household, with obese mothers often caring for undernourished children. These paradoxical situations among developing societies are symptoms of what researchers call a nutritional transition, whereby changes in diet and physical activity patterns due to urbanization, industrialization, and economic growth lead to a recession in famine directly alongside the emergence of obesity.

The transition to obesity initially occurs among the wealthiest sections of society, but with time and socioeconomic development shifts to become mainly a problem of the poor. Most worrisome, is the fact that the rate of increase in obesity prevalence in developing societies can often exceed that seen in the industrialized world. Indeed, the yearly rate of increase in overweight and obesity in regions of Asia, Africa, and South America is 2-5 fold that seen in the United States.

Compounding the rapid rates of increase in obesity prevalence in these regions are the unique biological and sociocultural factors inherent to populations undergoing nutritional transition. For instance, socio-cultural differences in the perception of obesity between developing and developed societies may work to propagate the trend towards obesity in the former. Indeed, obesity is a highly stigmatized condition in industrialized countries, with social discrimination being very prevalent, even among medical professionals. On the other hand, developing societies appear to have a greater tolerance of obesity, an effect which may be partially explained by the negative association of leanness with HIV/AIDS in certain populations. Thus, the lack of sociocultural pressures to stay lean in developing societies suggest that the rise in obesity prevalence in these regions is likely to proceed unabated.


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Exercise is Medicine - Tuesday June 9th in Kingston, Ontario

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses

When I was in high school, there was a poster outside the gym that said "If exercise were a pill it would be the most prescribed medicine in the world".  Despite the corniness, that poster was absolutely correct - exercise does amazing things for the human body.  If you live in Quebec, Ontario, or Northern New York State, and are a health care practitioner, graduate student, or a member of the public who would like to learn more about the relationships between exercise and health, you have the opportunity to hear some of the world's top health researchers in Kingston, Ontario on June 9th of this year. 

The one day symposium is called "Exercise is Medicine", and is being hosted by the Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  Sessions run from 12:30pm until 5:00pm, and topics include:

    * Exercise and Health.... Is More Always Better?
    * Physical Activity for People with Diabetes
    * Physical Activity for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Gain and Regain
    * Physical Activity Guidelines: Scientific Basis and Implications
    * Physical Activity, Fitness, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases and Mortality   

Speakers for the event include Tim Church, Ron Sigal, John Jakicic, Steve Blair, and William (Bill) Haskell.  It's no exaggeration to say that these are among the biggest names in exercise physiology, and Peter and I have gone out of our way to hear even one or two of them speak at conferences in the past.  To have all of these researchers together in one location is almost unbelievable.  I don't want to oversell this, but this is a big deal, and if you are a grad student or healthcare practitioner who lives within driving distance of Kingston (Toronto & Montreal are roughly 3 hours away by car or train, and Syracuse, NY and Ottawa are both within 2 hours) this is an amazing opportunity.  I should mention that this symposium is completely free, and meets the accreditation criteria of The College of Family Physicians of Canada and has been accredited for 3.25 Mainpro-1 credits (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like a good thing). 

Although the session is free, registration is necessary, and spots are limited, so if you plan on attending it's in your best interest to sign-up in the near future (from what I hear the initial response has been pretty intense, so I wouldn't wait too long if you plan to attend).  To register, fill out the form which is available on the CORE website or by clicking here.

For those who live a little further away (e.g. Windsor, Quebec City, or Buffalo) and would like to stay the night in Kingston but are of limited financial means, St Lawrence College offers single and double rooms for affordable rates in the summer, and their contact info can be found here.  And if you're really desperate for a place to stay send me an email and I'll see if I can find anyone who will put you up for a night.  No promises though.

Did I mention that this session is free?  Peter and I are already signed-up, and we hope to see you there!


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Consumer Warning: Exercise Balls May Explode!

Monday, April 27, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses

I was fully aiming on posting a thorough discussion on a recent study looking at the effects of liquid calories on weight status, but this morning was too beautiful to pass up the chance to go for a nice morning run. So instead I will echo a recent consumer alert from the Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding inflatable exercise balls.

Exercise balls are a great way to spice up your workout - for example doing weights while sitting on the ball rather than a stable bench can significantly increase the recruitment of your core muscles in the process. Also, they are perfect for basic home workouts on those days you don't feel like heading to the gym.

Unfortunately, some of them have the tendency to explode - especially when overinflated. Apparently, almost 3 million such exercise balls have recently been voluntarily recalled following 47 official complaints from costumers who have been injured while using the balls due to rupture.

The defective balls in question were produced by EB Brands in New York between 2000 and 2009, with names such as Bally Total Fitness, Everlast, Valeo and Body Fit. All sizes of balls were part of the recall.

If you own one of these products, you can contact EB brands for proper inflating instructions to avoid possible injury: Phone at 800-624-5671 or go to the company’s website at

Or just to be safe, put the exercise ball in the closet, and get out there and enjoy the wonderful spring weather.


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Can sitting too long kill you?

Friday, April 24, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 3 Responses
Photo by independentman.

Ok, so the title of today's post is a little over the top, but stick with me on this. Over the past few years research has suggested that being sedentary (e.g. sitting or lying down) for extended periods of time has a negative impact on your health. We know that people who sit for long periods of time are less likely to be physically active, and more likely to be obese, so it's not that surprising that people who sit for extended periods of time would have increased health risk relative to people who sit less. But new research is suggesting that people who spend more time seated are at increased health risk even after control for these other factors. In other words, no matter your body weight or how much you exercise, if you also spend a lot of time sitting, you are likely to have a higher health risk than someone who performs the same amount of exercise but spends less time sitting.

A new study by Canadian researchers published in this month's Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise looks at this very topic. The study, available here, was performed by Peter Katzmarzyk and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and examined the links between time spent sitting (at school, work, and at home) and mortality in a representative sample of more than 17,000 Canadians. They report that time spent sitting was associated with increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality (there was no association between sitting and cancer deaths). In fact, individuals who sat the most were roughly 50% more likely to die during the follow-up period than individuals who sat the least, even after controlling for age, smoking, and physical activity levels.

But wait - could it be that the people who sit more are only at risk because they also happen to be obese? Unfortunately body weight was only available in a subset of individuals in the present study, making this a difficult question to address. However, the authors did examine the association between sitting and mortality after control for body weight in this subset of individuals, and report that sitting remained a significant predictor of mortality. This suggests that all things being equal (body weight, physical activity levels, smoking, alcohol intake, age, and sex) the person who sits more is at a higher risk of death than the peson who sits less. The authors go on to suggest that sitting for extended periods of time may alter certain physiological processes, such as lipoprotein lipase activity, which could explain the link between time spent sitting and mortality risk.

These findings have far-reaching implications. The vast majority of people in Western society are sedentary throughout the work day. Instead of focussing all our efforts on increasing time spent being physically active, should we instead try to convince people to be less sedentary? Should we drastically restructure our work environments? We also know that when individuals with obesity increase their levels of structured physical activity, they often compensate for this increase in exercise by becoming more sedentary in their leisure time. In obese youth, this compensation is so severe that in some studies children actually burn less calories once they start the exercise intervention! Is this yet another reason to consider new types of physical activity interventions (perhaps those focussing on Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which may avoid this compensatory increase in sedentary behaviors?

This is only one cross-sectional study, and I should mention that it used self-report questionnaires to assess sitting time and physical activity levels. However, it raises several interesting questions, and will hopefully pave the way for longitudinal research on this area in the next few years. I would also like to point out that I first heard of this study on Amby Burfoot's Peak Performance blog, available here. Have a great weekend.


Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L., & Bouchard, C. (2009). Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41 (5), 998-1005

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High-fibre breakfast enhances fat burning during exercise

Thursday, April 23, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 7 Responses

Just last week I posted results from a study which suggest that having a breakfast high in fibre may be more satiating for a smaller number of calories, and thus may be one important way to help manage hunger and thus caloric intake. Today I came across another new study which suggests that a breakfast high in fibre and with a low glycemic index (the degree to which an ingested food causes a spike in blood glucose levels) may enhance fat oxidation during a subsequent bout of exercise.

In this small study published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition, 8 young and sedentary women participated in a randomized cross-over experiment in which on 2 separate days they consumed 1 of 2 breakfasts: both equal in carbohydrates, fat, protein and total calories, but with one being high-fibre/low-glycemic index while the other being low-fibre/high-glycemic index.

Three hours after the breakfast, the women were instructed to perform 60 minutes of fairly low intensity exercise (~50% of maximal oxygen uptake) during which their fuel (fat, carbohydrate, protein) oxidation was measured using indirect calorimetry.

The authors found that exercising after the high-fibre/low-glycemic index breakfast caused a doubling of the absolute total grams of fat burned during the bout in contrast to that seen post a low-fibre/high-glycemic index breakfast.

The authors suggest that while it has long been held that exercising in the morning in the fasted state (i.e. before breakfast) results in the greatest fat oxidation, a breakfast high in fibre may be a decent compromise for individuals, such as myself, who find it difficult to exercise on an empty stomach.

Yet another reason to dispense with the Fruit Loops...

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Stevenson, E., Astbury, N., Simpson, E., Taylor, M., & Macdonald, I. (2009). Fat Oxidation during Exercise and Satiety during Recovery Are Increased following a Low-Glycemic Index Breakfast in Sedentary Women Journal of Nutrition, 139 (5), 890-897 DOI: 10.3945/jn.108.101956

Related posts:

1. Fibre - The breakfast of champions!
2. Arthur's Super Juice: Get Your Prescription Today!
3. The Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition

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Boston Marathon Re-Cap

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by Paul Keleher.

After 5 days on the road I am finally back from the Boston Marathon (actually I am zooming through Dorval on a Via Rail train, but close enough)! My legs are still killing me – I have what’s referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which tends to peak around 48 hours after the race, and makes you walk a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster. I also destroyed my big toe on one foot (for a cell phone pic of my foot, click here), and the combination of my halting gait and my purple toe make it look like I was beaten by the mob. That being said, this trip was a great experience by any measure. I love road trips, and the past 5 days included over 20 hours of driving, 4 different trains, and a 2 hour flight. How’s that for celebrating Earth Day? It was also the first time that my parents had met my girlfriend’s parents and that went very well as well, which in a way is more relieving than finishing the race. So all-in-all, a very good trip.

The atmosphere of the race was unique from start to finish. Waiting for the start-gun, you could see thousands of people in every direction, fighter planes zooming overhead, and of course smell the strange mix of excitement, fear, and Gatorade that you find among people minutes before starting a marathon. Once the race was underway, it was amazing to see the fans that lined the 26 mile course, many of whom were offering oranges, bananas, water, or just a high-five to the runners. I must have high-fived at least a hundred kids throughout the race, and probably as many female undergrads at Wellesley College (although I modestly refused their requests for kisses as I was still foolishly hoping to run a fast time at that point in the race). Without a doubt the best part of the race was the final 1km, running through downtown Boston with tens of thousands of people cheering. It’s great to be supported by anyone, let alone by complete strangers, and I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear the roar of the crowd over the last few minutes of the race.

The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point race, meaning that the course starts 26.2 miles outside of Boston in Hopkinton, then travels through several small towns (including Framingham, home to the famous and influential Framingham Study) before finishing downtown. I had been warned to start conservatively and I did, running between 6:00/mile and 6:15/mile for the first few miles, a pace that would put me just shy of the 2:40 I ran at the Manitoba Marathon 2 years ago. The first 16 miles of the race are a fairly significant net downhill, with rolling hills from miles 16 thru 21 (including the famous Heartbreak Hill), and finally running mostly downhill again from mile 21 to the finish. Although this may sound surprising, the downhill sections were FAR tougher than any of the uphills. Running downhill actually generates significantly more muscle tension (and thereby muscle damage) than running uphill, and by the 7 or 8 mile mark my legs were already starting to throb. This was a real concern, as the first half of a marathon should feel relatively comfortable, with the real discomfort coming only in the last 6 miles. By the halfway mark I knew I wasn’t going to run a personal best, and the focus switched to finishing, trying to enjoy myself, and desperately hanging on so as not to lose to my girlfriend (see my previous post on my pre-race goals, here).

On the topic of my girlfriend, she ran a tremendous race, finishing in 3:11:38, a personal best, and was the 206th woman overall. It’s not often that people run personal bests in Boston, and she did it despite having leg pain which was at least as severe as mine. My own time was 2:50:43, just outside of my goal time range of 2:40-2:50, and placed me 487th overall. I am a bit disappointed with my time as I’ve had some great training lately, but for whatever reason my legs just did not handle the downhills well at all, and there’s not much I can do about that. And I still hit 3 of my 4 pre-race goals, the most important of which was having fun.

So, would I do it again? Not for at least a few years. Boston was a cool experience, especially since our parents were able to come and experience the race with us. But the race also hurt a LOT, far more than any marathon I’ve ever run, and this might sound strange, but the atmosphere was a little too intense for my tastes. I got into marathons as a way to relax, because I was tired of running super-serious intercollegiate track and cross country races. At most road races the runners and walkers are very chill, and even the competitors aiming for a fast time tend to be quite relaxed and chatty over the first few miles. In contrast, in Boston the competitors were nearly silent, and the race really lacked that feeling of camaraderie that I enjoy so much. I’ve been in marathons where other competitors wish you good luck even as you bump them out of a prize-money spot; in Boston no one said boo as we ran towards a placing in the high-400’s. I didn’t hear people thank the volunteers, or even see many people wave to the fans. Everyone was so focused on running a good time that I’m not sure many of them thought about having a good time, which is absolutely fine, but it’s not the reason that I am running at the moment. This may explain why I didn’t run a personal best, but it’s the same attitude I’ve had for all of my marathons, so I’m not overly concerned. I plan to do other marathons in the future, maybe even another one this year, but it will be some time before I have the urge to do Boston again.

On a personal note, I would like to thank Daun’s coach Steve Boyd, who did a great job of training her over the past 8 months, and who helped me get into shape over the past 2 months as well. I’d also like to congratulate Agathe Nicholson and Murray Jamer, two Masters runners who ran 3:11:11 and 3:02:18 respectively. Agathe was Daun’s training and racing partner over the past 8 months and I know it really added to her experience, and Murray is a fellow New Brunswicker and all around nice guy who works with my father. A huge thanks to the thousands of volunteers and fans who came to the race - my family and I were constantly commenting on how helpful and welcoming people were in the Boston area, and I would certainly go back again anytime. And finally, I would like to thank our our parents for making the trip, which really added to the experience for Daun and I.


UPDATE: For all of the pictures of me taken by MarathonFoto, click here.

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Obesity causes global warming?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 2 Responses

Such is the conclusion of a recent paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology, which was published online just days ago.

Globally, food production and transportation contribute to 20 and 14% of green house gas emissions, respectively. Given that larger people tend to consume more food to maintain weight, and that excess weight results in greater fuel consumption for a given distance travelled, the authors of the paper use various calculations to predict the increase in green house gas emissions emanating from a world getting increasingly more plump.

Their approach is quite straightforward. They basically compare the needed food production and transport fuel use between 2 populations of 1 billion people: the rather lean United Kingdom of 1970’s to that of its more rotund version today, that is, a ‘normal’ adult (30–59 years) population with mean BMI of 24.5 kg/m2 and 3.5% obese, with a corresponding ‘overweight’ population with mean BMI of 29.0 kg/m2 and 40% obese.

With regards to green house gas emissions from food production (i.e. think methane production from cows), due to a 19% increase in the amount of food required to feed this population, an overweight 1 billion people would produce an excess of 0.27 Giga tons of green house gasses per year, in comparison to their leaner counterparts.

Additionally, the fuel needed to transport this heavier theoretical population is suggested to result in another 0.15 Giga tons of green house gas emissions over the lean population.

Overall, the authors suggest that somewhere between 0.5-1.0 excess Giga tons of CO­2 would be produced by a billion overweight and obese people versus a billion lean people.

Nevertheless, while the notions raised are interesting and do sound plausible, these findings are just predictions made with large assumptions, and do not result from an analysis of direct data.
For example, it cannot be assumed that all lean individuals consume less calories than their obese counterparts – take for example our very own Mr. Travis Saunders who ran a marathon yesterday – he will have to consume more calories than you’d predict to maintain weight based on his size. Additionally, things like carpooling in a hybrid vehicle versus solitary SUV driving is likely to be more influential in the greater scheme of things than weight gain of the passengers.


Edwards, P., & Roberts, I. (2009). Population adiposity and climate change International Journal of Epidemiology DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyp172

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Are Marathon Runners Healthier than Runners Who Don't Do Marathons?

Monday, April 20, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 1 Response
 Travis competing at the 2007 Western Open (Photo by Alex Green).

As some of you may know, today is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts, which can only mean one thing – it’s the day of the Boston Marathon!  My girlfriend Daun and I are competing in the race this year, and by the time you read this I will hopefully be cresting the final hill and about to sail into the finish line.  This will be my 4th marathon personally, and the 2nd for Daun, and we’re both very excited about the experience.  My goals for race day are as follows (in order), and are the same as any long distance road race I have competed in during the past few years:

1. Enjoy myself
2. Finish
3. Finish ahead of Daun
4. Run a personal best

It might seem harsh that I want to beat my girlfriend, but we both come from a competitive running background (we met on the Queen’s Cross Country Team – Go Gaels!), and frankly I think she’d be disappointed if I didn’t try to beat her (I’m sure she’d love to beat me as well!).  Although I don’t want to jinx us by posting our time goals before the race, I will post both of our times and finishing positions after the race, or you can follow the results yourself here. (My bib # is 1304).

In honour of the race, today’s post is about a recent article which found that marathon runners are at lower risk for chronic disease than runners who do not run marathons.  Now I know that it is not earth shattering news that marathoners tend to be healthy people but the study, which was published in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (available here), has some interesting findings nonetheless.

In this new study, Dr Paul Williams of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory examined the association between marathon participation and metabolic risk in over 100,000 men and women.  In their study they compared two groups of people – runners who compete in marathons, and those who don’t.  They report that running marathons (even just once every 2-5 years) was associated with lower risk of taking medication for blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar, after control for miles run during training.  In other words, people who run marathons appear to be healthier than non-marathoners who do a similar amount of training.  It might be that people who run marathons do so because they are genetically more likely to be healthy, or there might be something unique about marathon training (e.g. the proportion of weekly mileage that is spent doing “Long, slow distance” runs) which influences health differently from regular distance running, but it appears that runners who do the occasional marathon are healthier than those who don’t. 

Before anyone goes out to run a marathon – there are some (small) risks. Williams cites a report stating that an average of 8 people of every 1,000,000 participants dies of sudden cardiac death – a small risk, but a risk nonetheless.  So it’s not a bad idea to talk to your doctor first, especially if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease.  For what it’s worth, road races of any length are a lot of fun, regardless of your skill level.  Whether you are walking or running, it’s an excuse to come together with your friends and family and get some physical activity, which is the real reason why events like the Boston Marathon are so popular.  Knowing that you have a race on the horizon is also a great incentive on those days when you don’t want to get out the door.  Just remember that the first goal is to enjoy yourself, no matter who finishes first (but seriously, I want to finish ahead of Daun).    


WILLIAMS, P. (2009). Lower Prevalence of Hypertension, Hypercholesterolemia, and Diabetes in Marathoners Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41 (3), 523-529 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31818c1752

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Public Transit Users More Likely to Reach Physical Activity Targets

Friday, April 17, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by frankdethier.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I feel physical activity should be built into our daily lives, rather than being sequestered in small chunks labeled “workouts”. It can feel impossible to fit in a workout some days, and it’s just too easy to skip the gym when you’re having an off day. By building activity into your daily routine, you can ensure that you’re getting at least some physical activity on even the busiest days.

For these reasons I am a big fan of active transportation – walking, cycling, or taking public transit instead of driving. Although taking public transit may not seem like the most obvious way to increase your physical activity levels, a recent study by Ugo Lachapelle and Larry Frank at the University of British Columbia suggests that this might be the case. In their study, available here, Lachapelle and Frank examined the association between transit use and physical activity levels in citizens of Atlanta. Not surprisingly, they report that individuals who took public transit were more likely to meet the recommended level of daily physical activity than individuals who did not take transit. Who was least likely to meet the recommended level of physical activity? Individuals who took most of their trips by car. These findings are cross-sectional, but nonetheless very interesting, and suggest that taking public transit is one way that you can build physical activity into your daily life.

I was very interested by this paper, so I emailed Mr Lachapelle some questions and he was kind enough to allow me to publish them on our site. This is the first of what we hope will be many Obesity Panacea interviews, and we hope you enjoy it.

TS: You report that transit users walk more than non-transit users, and that increasing the number of transit trips was associated with greater likelihood of meeting the recommended level of daily physical activity. Briefly, why do you think that to be the case?

UL: Thank you for appropriately formulating the issue. The media focused on the question of fitness, of which walking for the purpose of transportation is only a parcel. In fact meeting the Physical activity recommendation does not imply being fit, but rather participating in enough activity to maintain health and prevent diseases.

There are a number of plausible reasons for our findings. First getting to a transit access point (stop or station) typically requires walking on both origin and destination end of trips. While this may also be the case for automobile drivers, we would expect the distance to be shorter, at least on one end of the trip. Second, since transit users do not have a car at their destination they are more likely to make multiple small walk trips to shops and services near their transit stop. We would also expect a greater proportion of transit rides to bring the user to locations were walking is made easier by higher densities and concentration of multiple services. These and other questions are all part of the PhD thesis that I hope to be defending next fall.

TS: In your study, you report that both high and low income earners walked more than individuals with a middle-income. Why do you think that middle-income earners walk less?

UL: Our explanation for this is that middle-income household are more frequently located in the suburbs, while low income households may rent in more central areas and often do not own cars, and higher income individuals can afford to live in the central areas with high amenities that enables a lifestyle that involves lots of walking to shops and services. We expect that the low income individuals may have recorded more walking out of necessity, while the wealthier people may have done so because of lifestyle preferences and personal choices. Perhaps larger middle income families also have more time constraints.

TS: What are some of the ways that we can increase the attractiveness of transit to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds?

A simple answer is making it better. We know that there are people with automobiles using public transportation. If we consider these people to have similar needs and interest in saving time and having a convenient mode of travel (the automobile’s often cited competitive advantages), then they must live in situations where public transit use is competitive. Personal views, preferences and constraints come into play, but clearly, transit use makes more sense to some people in a city depending where they live and the destinations they need to access. Increasing the small proportion of people with high quality transit access is likely to increase ridership of wealthier people. Increasing the larger proportion of people with reasonable transit access is likely to increase ridership of people with more travel constraints.

TS: You make the case that employer-subsidized transit passes make sense for both employers and employees. Do you think we will see them becoming increasingly popular in the future?

Employer subsidized transit passes are embedded in the US taxation system and win-win-win is one of the rationales used to justify such policy. Efforts are currently being made to increase their adoption by employers and employees in order to reduce single occupancy vehicle commuting. Our analysis suggests that employer sponsored transit pass may additionally have a positive influence on walking. Todd Litman at the Victoria Transportation Institute has been a champion of the adoption of these public transit incentives in Canada for some times. Yet, there is scepticism as to how equitable the policy can be. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of political will to address the question of commute-related taxation, such as transit passes and untaxed parking benefits.

TS: You attend school in Vancouver - if you could change one thing about their transit system to make it more user-friendly, what would it be?

I live in a place where a good transit connection exists between my home and the locations I go to the most. Higher frequency of service is one of the best things I could get. It makes schedules obsolete. Yet one of the greatest problems that Vancouver faces, in my opinion at least, is the limited ability of the transit provider to establish a dense network of frequent service that covers the entire Greater Vancouver Regional District. Unsuitable land use and lack of funding are major concerns.

TS: Given that transit users are more likely to walk than non-transit users, do you have any plans to look at the obesity rates and/or metabolic health of transit vs non-transit users?

For the moment I personally plan to focus on looking at behaviours, and their association with the physical, social and policy environment. There are already at least two analyses on obesity and transit use in the journal Preventive Medicine [Travis’ Note: check out said papers here, here, and here], and we should expect more given the political momentum that the issue gained in recent years. Your blog is a great example of the high attention given to obesity. The pathway between transit use and obesity is likely to be confounded and mediated by diverse factors, as obesity is influenced by both the caloric intake and the energetic output. I’m not sure this is where I can best spend my energy.
Special thanks to Ugo Lachapelle for taking the time to answer all of our questions. Have a great weekend!


Related Posts:

1. Physical Activity and Health: the Early Years

2. Fitness Tip: Myth of the Fat Burning Zone

3. Fitness Tip: Benefits of a Single Exercise Session

Lachapelle, U., & Frank, L. (2009). Transit and Health: Mode of Transport, Employer-Sponsored Public Transit Pass Programs, and Physical Activity Journal of Public Health Policy, 30 DOI: 10.1057/jphp.2008.52

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The breakfast of champions!

Thursday, April 16, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 2 Responses

It is often suggested that breakfast consumption is key facet of a healthful diet, especially when attempting to lose weight. However, while breakfast may be ‘the most important meal of the day’ the composition of that breakfast must not be overlooked.

Particularly, diets high in fiber are known to be associated with better control of body weight as well as glucose homeostasis. For example, a prior meta-analysis suggests that consumption of greater than 14 g/d of dietary fiber for over 2 d is associated with a 10% decrease in energy intake.

On an even shorter time scale, other studies have shown that eating a breakfast high in fiber, versus a breakfast low in fiber but with the same number of calories, is associated with greater suppression of appetite and food intake during the lunch meal.

A new study published ahead of print in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition adds further support for the contention that consuming a high fiber breakfast aids in the control of energy balance.

In this study, 32 men and women were randomly assigned to have an EQUAL VOLUME (60g) of either a high fiber breakfast cereal (26 g fiber, 120 kcal) or a low fiber cereal (1 g fiber, 217 kcal). Subsequently their pre-lunch appetite as well as the food consumed during lunch (ad libidum) were monitored (some 3 hours post breakfast).

The study found that while the pre-lunch hunger and the caloric intake during the lunch did not differ between treatments, the cumulative caloric intake (breakfast + lunch) was significantly lower in the group eating the high-fiber cereal by about 100kcal, largely on account of the more satiating effect of the high-fiber cereal (greater fullness for less calories).

So it may be time to trade the Fruit Loops for some oatmeal for your daily breakfast – you may also save some money while you’re at it.

For about 2 years, I have been having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, along with some fruit. At first the transition from uber-sweet boxed cereals may be rough – adding some raisins or fresh berries or grapes to the oatmeal eased my transition.

What did you have for breakfast today?


Related Posts:

1. Is the Lean Mean Fryer the Cure for Obesity?
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Hamedani, A., Akhavan, T., Samra, R., & Anderson, G. (2009). Reduced energy intake at breakfast is not compensated for at lunch if a high-insoluble-fiber cereal replaces a low-fiber cereal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26827

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Exercise and Peripheral Artery Disease

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses

[Travis' Note:  Today's post was originally seen on December 18, 2008.  As Peter mentioned, we have a final exam later this afternoon, and unfortunately it has to take precedence over a fresh blog post.  Never fear - new Obesity Panacea posts will return tomorrow!]

Like most people, I have been aware of the problems associated with reduced blood flow to the heart for quite some time (angina, heart attacks, etc). However, I recently became aware of a related condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD) when it was diagnosed in a friend of my family. PAD refers to the obstruction of arteries in the arms and legs, and can result in reduced blood flow to muscles below the obstruction. As well as being a risk factor for heart disease, the reduced blood flow associated with PAD can cause significant amounts of pain in the legs when walking even short distances, and can be very debilitating. Not surprisingly given the increased prevalence of risk factors including obesity and diabetes in recent years, the prevalence of PAD is also increasing.

Given the serious impact that PAD has had on my friend's mobility, I was pleased when I came across an article examining the positive influence of exercise on PAD in the latest issue of the Journal of Physiology. Taylor and colleagues blocked the femoral artery in rats, then examined blood flow to muscles below the blockage after three weeks of exercise 'training' or a 3 weeks of being confined to their cage. Both groups developed 'collateral' blood vessels to re-route blood around the obstruction, which is pretty cool in and of itself. However, the exercise training group developed larger collateral vessels than the sedentary group, resulting in significantly increased blood flow to muscles below the obstruction in the exercise training group. Although the rats can't verbalize how they feel, I would expect that with increased blood flow the rats in the exercise group would also feel less pain in their legs than those in the sedentary condition.

I was most excited to see this study because among other things, my acquaintance has begun a daily walking program and their symptoms have improved considerably since their training began. Exercise is not the only answer for problems like PAD, but it's nice to see that something as simple as a walking program can be part of the solution.


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Dunkin Donuts Commercial: Gluttony and Sloth are Fun Again!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses
I hope all our readers had a relaxing Easter weekend.

For Travis and I, this weekend has been a bit stressful on account of a final exam in our graduate course which happens tomorrow. Thus, please forgive today's and tomorrow's short post.

Nevertheless, while short, today's post should be just enough to make your blood boil - as it did to me when I first saw the commercial last week.

Oh no, the children are in a catatonic trance watching television - not so good for energy expenditure. But have no fear, because dad is here with some nutritious food - that's right a box of donuts! Hooray to a healthy lifestyle consisiting of laziness followed by some sweet gluttony:)

Enjoy the video (email subscribers must log onto the site to view).


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Travis Steps into the Future... Again

Thursday, April 09, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by Mike Baird.

As I have discussed before, I believe that incorporating physical activity into daily life is one of the easiest ways for people to increase their physical activity levels, and improve their metabolic health. Although structured physical activity (e.g. working out in the gym) is great for some people, it is definitely not for everyone, myself included. What's more, recent evidence suggests that some individuals may compensate for structured physical activity by actually reducing the amount of energy they expend during the rest of the day. This compensation can be so drastic that in some studies of obese youth, the "exercise" group actually expended less energy each day than the "control" group! Further, many people just don't enjoy structure exercise, which makes it incredibly difficult to maintain over the long-term. For these reasons, incorporating physical activity into your daily life (by walking more, taking the stairs, and generally trying to reduce the amount of time spent being sedentary) may be a more effective way to increase physical activity levels and metabolic health over the long-term.

What's more, structured exercise sessions typically last for an hour or less each day. In contrast, reports suggest that obese individuals spend the vast majority of their time being sedentary. For example, a recent study by Thomas Vanhecke and colleagues at William Beaumont Hospital (available here) examined daily activity levels in a 10 morbidly obese men and women. On average, participants in their study spent 23 hours and 51 minutes each day sleeping or being sedentary. In contrast, just 8 minutes were spent in moderate physical activity. Further, subjects in this study took an average of just 3,700 steps each day (the suggested guideline is a minimum of 10,000 steps/day). Think of how much energy could be expended just by reducing the amount of time spent being sedentary! In this way, reducing sedentary time (which includes almost the entire day), may be a much more effective way to increase physical activity levels than focusing solely on a few minutes of structured physical activity.

All of this brings me to a post I wrote a month ago about my decision to begin wearing a pedometer. Pedometers count the number of steps you take each day, and are an easy way to monitor the amount of physical activity you are getting on a daily basis (it's much easier than trying to count steps in your head all day). I had originally purchased a pedometer at The Source for $20, and since that first post, both Peter and I have been provided with very nice pedometers by Speakwell, whose pedometers also cost about $20. Peter and I have been posting our daily step counts on Twitter, and I am happy to say that we have both been averaging well-above the suggested goal of 10,000 steps per day. Most days I get about 15,000, although I've been over 20,000 a few times, and one ridiculous day I even cracked 30,000! I'm preparing for the Boston Marathon later this month, so I certainly wouldn't bode well if I was getting under 10,000 steps each day!

Interestingly, while I get several thousand steps on each training run, I have noticed that I get hardly any steps throughout the rest of the day. In fact, if I were not running on a daily basis, I would only average 6,000-9,000 steps each day! I was quite shocked by this, especially considering that I usually walk to school, as well as to the hospital where I am performing data collection. Further, on days when I am working from my office at Queen's, I hardly get any steps at all throughout the day - sometimes less than 1,000! In contrast, when I work from home, I often get far more, because I am more likely to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water, or stand at my desk while I work (I get self conscious about these things when I work from the office that I share with Peter and others). And today, despite working from home, I am appalled to say that I have only taken 464 steps, and I have been up for 3 hours. So obviously I could incorporate a LOT more physical activity into my daily life!

I'm a nerd, so I love these types of gadgets, but it really has been a very educational experience so far. I am especially curious to see what happens to my daily step count in the weeks after the marathon when I will likely be moving a lot less! If you are curious about the amount of physical activity that you get on a daily basis, I strongly encourage you to buy a pedometer of your own, and to let us know about your own experiences incorporating activity into your daily life.

Have a great Easter Weekend; Obesity Panacea will return next week!


Vanhecke, T., Franklin, B., Miller, W., deJong, A., Coleman, C., & McCullough, P. (2009). Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Sedentary Lifestyle in the Morbidly Obese Clinical Cardiology, 32 (3), 121-124 DOI: 10.1002/clc.20458

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Is losing fat from the hips and thighs bad for your health?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 3 Responses

As we have mentioned a few times on this blog, it is well known that excess fat accumulation around the midsection (apple shape), in particular in the intra-abdominal or visceral depot, is particularly dangerous to your health. Also, we know that the specific loss of abdominal fat is closely related to improvements in metabolic status.

Conversely, many studies suggest that the accumulation of fat in the lower body (butt, hips, thighs), as in the classical pear shape, may actually protect against risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. An interesting question is whether the loss of lower-body fat could actually be related to a deterioration in metabolic status.

In a paper published last summer in the journal Diabetologia, along with co-authors Dr. Jen Kuk and Dr. Robert Ross, I investigated this very question. Basically, we assessed the relationships between loss of body fat from specific regions of the body (i.e. abdominal versus lower-body) and changes in metabolic risk factors (blood sugar, blood fats, glucose tolerance, etc.) in response to 3 months of diet and/or exercise intervention among 107 overweight or obese men and women.

What did we find?

First, we were able to corroborate previous findings showing that while more abdominal fat was associated with greater metabolic risk, the reverse was true of excess lower body fat. That is, if everything else were equal (age, gender, abdominal fat amount, etc.) – the individual with more fat in the butt, hips and thighs would actually have a healthier metabolic profile.

However, we found that loss of fat from the lower body, just like loss of fat from the abdomen, is associated with improved metabolic status.

Thus, you don’t need to fret if you thought losing your pear-shape during weight loss might increase your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

While a detailed discussion of the physiological mechanisms mediating these findings is beyond the scope of this post, it is important to note that the extrapolation of cross-sectional findings (i.e. more thigh fat is good) does not always lend itself to the correct longitudinal interpretation (i.e. losing thigh fat is bad).

Nevertheless, if you are interested to read the paper, which I hope you are, you can do so in full here. If you do not have a subscription to the journal, please email me and I will be more than happy to provide you with an electronic copy.

On another note, if you enjoyed yesterday's post regarding the lack of evidence regarding HCG diets, you may be interested to read the animated discussion that has erupted in the comments section of that post - click here to read.


Related Posts:
1.Physical Activity in the Treatment of Obesity Related Health Risk: Is Weight Loss the Optimal Target?
2. Sedentary Lifestyle and Excess Belly Fat Increases Erectile Dysfunction Risk
3. This Apple Does Not Keep the Doctor Away

Janiszewski, P., Kuk, J., & Ross, R. (2008). Is the reduction of lower-body subcutaneous adipose tissue associated with elevations in risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Diabetologia, 51 (8), 1475-1482 DOI: 10.1007/s00125-008-1058-0

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Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) for Fat Loss: "Fallacy and Hazard"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 11 Responses
Photo by Todd Huffman.
One of the great things about this site is that people often bring products or research to our attention that we otherwise might have missed. This occurred yesterday in the comments section of Peter's recent post on Acai berry scams, when one of our readers brought up the use of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity. The website that we were provided smacks of weight loss gimmickry - notably the promise of an obesity "cure" and "near 100% success rate", but we thought it best to review the evidence before making a judgement one way or the other.

The use of HCG to treat obesity was first suggested by ATW Simeons in a 1954 Lancet paper. He reported that injection of HCG resulted in rapid mobilization of body fat stores and induced feelings of well-being. He also claimed that HCG reduced weakness and hunger during very low calorie diets (500kcal/day) and that HCG treatment could be used to prevent the protein and vitamin deficiencies which are a frequent side-effect of such low caloric intake. Finally, he suggested that HCG could be used to successfully treat a range of ailments ranging from diabetes and gout to ulcers and skin diseases. However, it is important to note that no actual study was performed - these were just subjective observations. Naturally, Simeons' observations spurred actual research into HCG.

Unfortunately for Simeons' pet theory, the vast preponderance of studies examining the effectiveness of HCG in the treatment of obesity found absolutely no effect. For example, a 1976 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association performed a rigorously controlled, double-blind crossover study examining the effects of HCG on weight loss in obese individuals undergoing very low calorie diets. In a double-blind study, neither the patient, nor the physician, knows whether the patient is receiving HCG or a placebo. What were their results? Both groups lost a significant amount of weight (not surprising given subjects were only consuming 500 kcal/day), however there was no difference in weight loss between the HCG and placebo treatments.

However, sites which promote HCG such as the HCG Diet Info Blog claim that it doesn't matter if there was no difference in weight loss - HCG promotes fat loss, and preserves muscle mass. So both groups might have lost the same weight, but the HCG group might have lost more fat, and preserved more muscle than the other group. Luckily, the above paper examined this possibility as well, and report that there was no difference in fat loss between the HCG and placebo treatments. So, this study strongly suggests that HCG does not enhance fat loss, nor does it preserve muscle mass.

Ok, that's only one study, and to be fair there is one study by Asher and Harper which suggests that HCG might have some effect on weight loss. However, that is the only well designed study to show such a link, while numerous other studies have shown conclusive evidence that HCG does not enhance weight loss, reduce hunger, or increase the sense of well-being. For example, a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Pharmacology examining all of the research on HCG concluded that:

"there is no scientific evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight loss or fat redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being."

Interestingly, they report that most of the studies were of poor methodological quality, and of the 12 studies with the strongest methodologies and proper controls, 11 showed HCG to be utterly useless in inducing weight or fat loss. Additionally, they point out that the use of HCG is also unethical, given that "HCG is obtained from the urine of pregnant women who donate their urine idealistically in the belief that it will be used to treat... infertility". That's right - it comes from the urine of pregnant women!

That's not all. An editorial by John Ballin and Philp White in the Journal of the American Medical Assocation titled "Fallacy and Hazard" claims that "no rational basis exists for [HCG] use in weight reduction, except as placebo". Further "Weight loss under the Simeons regimen can be attributed solely to the semistarvation diet that is required", a diet which is so restricted as to raise safety concerns. Finally, they claim that way that Simeons weight clinics are run "pose serious questions for physicians who participate in them".

But if the evidence clearly suggests that HCG is completely useless in the treatment of obesity, why is HCG so popular? Well, it may have something to do with its inclusion in Kevin Trudeau's book "The Weight Loss Cure", which has been dissected by Dr Yoni Freedhoff and others in the past. For those of you who don't know Kevin Trudeau from late-night infomercials, watch an excellent piece by 20/20 here.

Interestingly, the best argument against the use of HCG therapy actually comes from the companies which peddle the product. For example, the disclaimer on the website of TrimYou, a company that certifies and promotes weight loss clinics adhering to the original Dr Simeons Diet Protocol reads thusly:


Enough said.

To receive information on other weight loss gimmicks products, as well as the latest health and fitness news and research, enter your email address in the "Subscribe Via Email" box in the upper right-hand corner of the blog.

Related Posts:
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2. AcaiBurn: "the World's Most Extreme Weight-Loss Solution"?
3. Accelis: the Panacea for Obesity?

Lijesen, G.K., Theeuwen, I., Assendelft, W.J.J., & Van Der Wal, G. (1995). The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy:
a criteria-based meta-analysis British Journal of Pharmacology, 40, 237-243.

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And the award goes to…

Monday, April 06, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Science Fair science fair in Kingston. Along with my fellow judge, Marina Komolova, I was responsible for handing out the Canadian Obesity Network award to the best project focusing on diet, exercise or obesity issues. The prize included a $100 cheque as well as a year’s subscription to the Canadian Obesity Network’s quarterly publication, CONDUIT.

After screening through 11 relevant projects and some fierce deliberation, the Canadian Obesity Network award was given to Tim Ostiguy and Yeon-Soo Kim from Module Vanier School for their project entitled “Rhythm Running”.

As the title suggests, Ostiguy and Kim performed a number of experiments to look at the effect of music (especially its rhythm) on performance on an exercise task, specifically running.

Among their numerous findings, which you can read in detail on their project website, the young researchers found that more up-tempo music can help increase the pace and intensity of your run, without you noticing. For this test, each subject would first run for 10mins while wearing a pedometer but no music. The distance covered and the number of steps per minute were calculated for this trial. Following this, the researchers would find a song with beats per minute which exceed the runner’s regular steps per minute by 5 beats. Then, on a separate day the same runner would complete another 10 min run, but now while wearing an iPod with the slightly up-tempo rhythm. The results show that the number of steps taken during the 10 min run increased from 160.1 to 164.1, and the distance covered increased from 2.05 to 2.09 km, when the runner was exposed to music with a tempo which was slightly faster than their regular running pace.

So if you’d like to slightly ramp up the intensity of your rhythmic exercise, why not listen to an up-tempo song while doing it. On the other hand, you’d probably be better off avoiding Celine Dion ballads when running as they may actually work to slow you down.

To read about the other experiments performed by Ostiguy and Kim as well as some background on the effects of music on sport performance please check out their website.

Thanks to the Canadian Obesity Network for providing the prize and allowing me to hopefully motivate and further inspire the great minds of tomorrow.


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What’s the magic of Leg Magic?

Friday, April 03, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 2 Responses

According to the always entertaining infomercial (which you can watch here), Leg Magic is “the short-skirt and shorter short solution!”

What follows are statements from the official Leg Magic website and my reactions:

“Most workout programs can’t target the areas you really want them to – your inner and outer thighs, buttocks, and abs.”

That’s like saying most exercise programs don’t target the thenar muscles of your hand which are so critical for professional videogaming. In fact, it is even worse, because I would argue that most workout programs (i.e. walking, running, biking, swimming, etc.) would work those very muscles – and would likely be much more effective in utilizing the abs and buttocks than the Leg Magic.

“Leg Magic uses a unique lateral gliding motion, combined with gravity, to get right at those problem areas.”

Oh, so gravity is the ‘magic’ ingredient! Those problem areas in most overweight and obese individuals – including the token overweight woman in the infomercial - are not limited to the inner and outer thighs! For most individuals, excess adiposity throughout the body is an issue, and with regards to your health is particularly hazardous when deposited around your midsection. More importantly, while you can (to a certain degree) selectively hypertrophy certain muscle groups by doing specific and isolated exercises (i.e. bicep curls to increase the size of your arms), you cannot selectively reduce fat from one area or another. What does this mean? You may in fact increase the strength and size of your thigh abductors and adductors by using the Leg Magic, but if these muscles are covered by plentiful adipose tissue, it likely won’t make that much of a difference when trying on those “short skirts.”

“It also increases your heart rate, so you’ll burn calories more efficiently and lose weight faster.”

So does typing on a keyboard! In the infomercial they make a big deal about the fact that the movement induced by Leg Magic is short and controlled. Is this ideal for burning calories and losing weight, if that is your goal? Absolutely not! I remember a biomechanics lecture from my undergraduate years where the professor was discussing efficiency of movement and caloric expenditure. In that lecture he more or less stated that if your goal is to expend as many calories as possible – be as uncoordinated and inefficient as you can be while performing your activity. Anyone remember Phoebe from the show Friends running? That is how you burn a lot of calories, not by the “short, controlled movements” of Leg Magic.

“Even better, you can accomplish all this in just a 60 second workout, a few times a day.”
Yes there are benefits to accumulating short bouts of activity throughout the day. But 60 second workouts done 3 times per day still amount to only 3 minutes of exercise no matter how you spin it. Additionally, I can’t imagine that with such an isolated movement you will be able to exercise at anything above a low intensity. Keep in mind that health authorities suggest that you accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day. In other words, if you follow the Leg Magic Program you will fall severely short of current physical activity recommendations.

In addition to this, Leg Magic has all the token features of a gimmicky fitness product, including a supplementary nutritional guide and an exercise program (two things that may actually work, but that you don’t have to buy from the manufacturers of Leg Magic). The infomercial also shows a bar graph from a “University study” which indicates Leg Magic can induce a 21% fat reduction. Of course, no reference or any details are ever provided, so we can only guess about the veracity of these statements.

Probably the only useful thing that comes with the Leg Magic package is the pedometer, which, as Travis has done, can be purchased from Radioshack for around $20.

While Travis and I often criticize many home-based exercise and fitness products due to their outlandish claims, lack of evidence based support, and questionable marketing ploys (see Slender Shaper, Air Climber), the simple truth is that home exercise equipment can be effective. Unfortunately, you never see any late night commercials for a treadmill, a stationary bike, an elliptical, or even better – a sidewalk or stairs. That is, the things that we know work will never be peddled on late-night television as there are countless manufacturers of legitimate exercise equipment and advertising Joe’s Treadmills will undoubtedly increase sales of Jim’s Treadmills. However, if I develop ‘Thumb Exercise Pro’ to help target those muscles which, as I previously joked, are critical for professional videogaming – I would have the only gimmick specifically targeting that muscle group and thus I would reap all the financial rewards of duping the lay public.

Take home message – don’t get duped!

Have a great weekend,


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Can exercise cure or prevent the common cold?

Thursday, April 02, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 3 Responses

Much like during the fall, spring is often a time when it seems as though everyone around you is suffering from a cold or flu. Apparently, the common cold is the most often occurring health problem in the world.

The average adult has approximately 2-3 colds per year, while children can have up to 7 per year. This frequent illness has been estimated to result in $2.5 billion lost in work, school days and medical costs in the US alone.

Despite your mother’s wise advice, a cold does not appear to be caused by cold or damp weather conditions, but rather is passed from person to person via the air (i.e. sneezing).

The new ACSM report suggests that individuals who are consistently active have a reduced risk of catching a cold.

Specifically, the report suggests that the majority of recreational runners (60%+) report a reduction in the occurrence of common colds since initiation of training, while almost all (90%) of experienced runners report that they “rarely get sick.”

More rigorous studies which randomized individuals to either an exercise intervention or control have shown similar results with those individuals in the exercise group experiencing half the incidence of colds as those in the control group which maintained inactivity throughout the study.

However, all of the above benefits of physical activity hold only for moderate intensity exercise, as it is also true that post a prolonged and exhaustive exercise bout (i.e. marathon) immune function is depressed, thus making one more susceptible to infection.

So, rather than chewing vitamin C tablets, inhaling hot steam, or popping back some Echinacea, go for a nice brisk 30 min walk on most days of the week to help protect yourself from all the cold-ridden individuals at your work, school, home, etc.


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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