Tag Archives: exercise

This Week’s Most Ridiculous Heart Health Headline: “Running One Marathon Can Make Your Arteries Healthier”

Yes, CNBC went with that silly headline.

ABC went with “Training For Your 1st Marathon May Reverse Aging.”

The usually reliable Allison Aubrey and NPR went with ” Ready For Your First Marathon? Training Can Cut Years Off Your Cardiovascular Age.”

Aaarggh! As the newly-minted wife of the skeptical cardiologist likes to say.

The media threw caution to the wind and went gaga over this study which proves nothing of the sorts of things described above.

They may have been egged on by the authors who were wildly overstating the implications of the study

“What we found in this study is that we’re able to reverse the processes of aging that occur in the [blood] vessels,” says study author Dr. Anish Bhuva, a British Heart Foundation Cardiology Fellow at Barts Heart Centre in the UK..

Allison Aubrey did manage to quote a sensible person in her report to counter the balderdash being thrown around by the study authors:

The heart health benefits documented in the study likely have much less to do with the one-time race event than they do with the fact that the training program got people in the habit of regular, moderately intense exercise, says exercise researcher Dr. Tim Church, an adjunct professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. On average, the participants ran between 6 and 13 miles per week, during their training, so, not super long distances.”The training program was very practical and very doable,” says Church, who was not involved in the study, but who reviewed the training regimen and results for NPR. “It was a slow build up over six months,” Church says.

I know a thing or two about aortic distensibility. In 1992 I described a new noninvasive method for quantification of aortic elastic properties in a paper published in the American Heart Journal entitled “Evaluation of aortic distensibility with transesophageal echocardiography.”

One thing I know for sure is aortic distensibility is highly dependent on systolic blood pressure and any changes that were seen in this study could simply have been related to lower systolic blood pressure.

The authors acknowledge this limitation along with about a million other limitations at the end of their paper. The limitations are legion and I’ve copied them at the end of this post. I’m quite surprised that JACC published it given those limitations and the absence of any important new findings.

Taking up exercise is really good for you but do not be fooled by these ridiculous headlines into thinking running one marathon has any special way to make you younger.

Take up exercise that you can sustain and that won’t leave you injured or frustrated.

Pheidippidesically Yours,

-ACP

Study limitations

This study was conducted in healthy individuals; therefore, our findings may not apply to patients with hypertension who have stiffer arteries that may be less modifiable (40). From these data, however, those with higher SBP at baseline appeared to derive greater benefit. This study was not designed to provide structured training, but rather to observe the effects of real-world preparation for a marathon, which randomized control trials cannot address. Nevertheless, information on the intensity, frequency, and type of exercise training would have been valuable to understand further the beneficial effects on aortic stiffness. The modest change in peak VO2 may be related to exercise training intensity or low adherence, which reflects the real world. Peak VO2 was performed semisupine to allow concurrent echocardiography, and this may also have reduced sensitivity to changes due to running or running efficiency. We assessed only marathon finishers—plausibly, nonfinishers could have had different vascular responsiveness. The causal link of exercise to measured changes is only inferred—marathon training may lead to other lifestyle modifications (dietary, other behavioral factors), or alterations in lipid profiles and glucose metabolism, although these have not been previously associated with changes in aortic stiffness (11). We did not examine the effect of exercise on peripheral arteries or endothelial dysfunction. Although individual participants served as internal controls, there may have been run-in bias for the initial BP measurement. This appears unlikely, as BP changes would not have been age-related nor correlated with the change in separate measures (e.g., aortic stiffness) with training. Estimated aortic ages are approximations and are based on the same dataset at baseline rather than independent observations. The exercise dose-response curve here is not sampled—only training for a first-time marathon with single timepoint assessment. This area warrants further study. We measured distensibility on modulus imaging acquired at 1.5-T rather than steady-state free precession imaging. The free-breathing sequence we used achieved good temporal resolution, but may be susceptible to through-plane motion. However, this and similar sequences correlate well with breath-held cine imaging, and show similar associations with aging (18). If error was introduced into distensibility measurements related to through-plane motion, the resultant noise would minimize the effect size related to exercise training, and therefore would be unlikely to account for our key findings. PP undergoes amplification from central to more peripheral locations, typically being ∼6 mm Hg higher in the descending thoracic than the ascending aorta (20). This PP amplification is not accounted for in our analysis, because it would have involved invasive measures of aortic pressure at each location. A sensitivity analysis suggested that the likely impact of this effect on the observed changes after training would be minimal; however, we cannot completely exclude the possibility that changes in PP amplification contribute to the observed differences. Diaphragmatic descending aortic distensibility data reported here were, however, higher than expected, although there is limited published data for comparison (41). Unlike Voges et al. (41), central rather than brachial PP was used, which would explain greater distensibility, and the use of 1.5-T phase-contrast modulus may accentuate image contrast differences between 3T gradient echo sequences.

 

Younger Next Year: Can We Forestall Aging?

One of my favorite bands is They Might Be Giants (TMBG), a quirky duo of Johns from Brooklyn which produces eclectic, odd and brilliant music for both adults and children.

I’ve performed (with my old band Whistling Cadaver) the TMBG song “Older” on occasion (often a birthday) which  includes the insightfully weird  lines “You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older” and the wonderful “Time is marching on (at this point one must insert a long pause of variable duration)  and time is still marching on.”

These words of wisdom have heretofore held true but in the last decade, many researchers and authors have declared that we can forestall the inevitable tide of aging. Books, podcasts, and websites abound on the topic and dominate the bestseller and high popularity lists.

Last week a patient gave me a book entitled “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond – turn back your biological clock” which suggests that TMBG may have gotten it wrong.

The book first published in 2004 was written by a physician Henry Lodge (a Boston Brahmin and grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge) and his “star patient” Chris Crowley, a retired litigator. It became quite popular and morphed into an entire cottage industry.

“Younger Next Year” and the rest of the series, “Younger Next Year for Women: Live Like You’re 50 — Strong, Fit, Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond” (2005), “Younger Next Year Journal” (2006) and “Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program” (2015), have more than two million copies in print and have been translated into 21 languages.

I found the book to be an easy read, written in a folksy, conversational style and alternating between brief sections written by each of the authors which present both the star patient’s perspective and the learned physicians. This makes the book appealing to the large audience that might benefit from its words of wisdom but less appealing to those who seek a more science-backed and advanced look at methods for enhancing longevity.

The blurb from the inner flap serves as a good summary of what is within:

“YOUNGER NEXT YEAR draws on the very latest science of aging to show how men 50 or older can become functionally younger every year for the next five to ten years, and continue to live like fifty-year-olds until well into their eighties. To enjoy life and be stronger, healthier, and more alert. To stave off 70% of the normal decay associated with aging (weakness, sore joints, apathy). and to eliminate over 50% of all illness and potential injuries.”

Ultimately, according to YNY, the secret to successful aging centers on following Dr. Lodge’s simples rules:

  • Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Spend less than you make.
  • Quit eating crap!
  • Care.
  • Connect and Commit.

For the most part, I agree with these rules. In particular, the immense value of regular aerobic, strength and flexibility exercise in prolonging one’s healthspan cannot be overemphasized.

Exercise is the most powerful medicine we have against aging and the authors spend a lot of time trying to convince readers of this and suggesting ways to facilitate and activate a good exercise program.

It is for this reason that I would recommend the book to any patient or reader who is not currently regularly exercising.

In 2015, “Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program” was published which gives more specific details and recommendations. I haven’t read this but you can read a well-written review of the book from a discerning physical trainer here. I’m on a continuous quest to find the best exercise program for myself and my patients and realized that I already have incorporated many of the 25 resistance exercises (downloadable PDF here) mentioned in the book into my regular routine.

Harry’s Death

When my patient gave me this book he told me that Dr. Lodge had died at a youngish age. Alas, sadly this is true.  He died of prostate cancer at age 58 and his NY Times obituary can be found here.

 

 

As I’ve discussed previously with respect to diet gurus (Atkins and Pritikin) we should not put much stock in the mechanism of death of our lifestyle and diet authors.

It’s never too late to start an exercise program.  A year ago I bought Pops Pearson, my 92-year-old father, a recumbent exercise bicycle. He had become unable to walk on his exercise treadmill due to balance and orthopedic issues with a subsequent decline in his overall physical and mental well-being. After starting regular work-outs on the bicycle he now feels stronger and better than he has in years!

Antisenescentally Yours,

-ACP

N.B. The authors of YNY imply that we all know what qualifies as “crap.” The brief details they provide on what we should and should not eat are not unreasonable, however, they mistakenly promote skim milk and non-fat dairy. Best to follow Dr. P’s diet recommendations.

N.B.2 Since my patient was kind of enough to give me this book and I’ve finished reading it I’m going to pass it on to the first patient of mine to leave a comment indicating they want it.

Are You Doing Enough Push Ups To Save Your Life?

The skeptical cardiologist has always had a fondness for push-ups. Therefore I read with interest a recent study published in JAMAOpen which looked at how many push-ups a group of 30 and 40-something male firefighters from Indiana could do and how that related to cardiovascular outcomes over the next ten years.

The article was published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, and is freely available to access online.

The British National Health Service pointed out that “The UK media has rather over exaggerated these findings:”

Both the Metro and the Daily Mirror highlighted the result of 40 push-ups being “the magic number” for preventing heart disease, but in fact being able to do 10 or more push-ups was also associated with lower heart disease risk.

What Was Studied?

The study involved 1,104 male firefighters (average age 39.6) from 10 fire departments in Indiana who underwent regular medical checks between 2000 and 2010. 

At baseline the participants underwent a physical fitness assessment which included push-up capacity (hereafter referred to as the push-up number (PUN))and treadmill exercise tolerance tests conducted per standardized protocols.

For push-ups, the firefighter was instructed to begin push-ups in time with a metronome set at 80 beats per minute. Clinic staff counted the number of push-ups completed until the participant reached 80, missed 3 or more beats of the metronome, or stopped owing to exhaustion or other symptoms (dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, or shortness of breath). Numbers of push-ups were arbitrarily divided into 5 categories in increments of 10 push-ups for each category. Exercise tolerance tests were performed on a treadmill using a modified Bruce protocol until participants reached at least 85% of their maximal predicted heart rates, requested early termination, or experienced a clinical indication for early termination according to the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines (maximum oxygen consumption [V̇ O2max]).

The main outcomes assessed were new diagnoses of heart disease from enrollment up to 2010. 

Cardiovascular events were verified by periodic examinations at the same clinic or by clinically verified return-to-work forms. Cardiovascular disease–related events (CVD) were defined as incident diagnosis of coronary artery disease or other major CVD event (eg, heart failure, sudden cardiac death)

Here’s the graph of the probability of being free of a CVD event on the y-axis with time on x-axis.

The black line represents those 75 firefighters who couldn’t make it into double digits, the green those 155 who did more than 40 pushups.

Participants able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a significant 96% lower rate of CVD events compared with those completing fewer than 10 push-ups.

It is surprising that the push up number seemed a better predictor of outcomes than the exercise test, This should be taken with a grain of salt because although the investigators report out “VO2 max” the stress tests were not maximal tests.

The firefighters with lower push up numbers were fatter, more likely to smoke and had higher blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels.

What useful information can one take from this study?

You definitely cannot say that being able to do more than 40 pushups will somehow prevent heart disease. The PUN is neither causing nor preventing anything.

The PUN is a marker for the overall physical shape of these firefighters. It’s a marker for how these men were taking care of themselves. If you are a 39 year old fireman from Indiana and can’t do 11 push-ups you are in very sorry condition and it is likely evident in numerous other ways.

The <11 PUN crew were a bunch of fat, diabetic, insulin resistant, hyperlipidemic, out-of-shape hypertensives who were heart attacks in the waiting.

Push-ups Are A Great Exercise

Despite the meaningless of this study you should consider adding push-ups to your exercise routine. Doing them won’t save your life but it will contribute to mitigating the weakness and frailty of aging. Don’t obsess about your PUN.

I’ve always liked push-ups and highly recommend them. They require no special equipment or preparation. It’s a quick exercise that builds upper body muscle strength, adds to my core strength and gets my heart rate up a bit. For some reason my office in O’Fallon is always cold so several times during the day when I’m there I’ll do 100 jumping jacks and drop on the carpet and do some push-ups in an effort to get warm.

I don’t do them every day but the last time I tried I could do 50 in less than a minute and that has me convinced I will live forever!

Calisthenically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. In my post on mitigating sarcopenia in the elderly I talked about the importance of resistance exercise:

Americans spend billions on useless supplements and vitamins in their search for better health but exercise is a superior drug, being free  and without drug-related side effects

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog emphasizing the importance of aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health but I also am a believer in strength and flexibility training for overall health and longevity.

As we age we suffer more and more from sarcopenia-a gradual decrease in muscle mass.

Scientific reviews note that loss of muscle mass and muscle strengh is quite common in individuals over age 65 and is associated with increased dependence, frailty and mortality

Push-ups are a great resistance exercise. For a description of the perfect form for a push up see here.

What Should Your Maximal Exercise Heart Rate Be?: The Importance Of Using The Right Age-Predicted HRmax Formula

A reader who runs 5Ks posted a question recently which indicated concern that his heart rate during intense exercise was much higher than his age-predicted heart rate.  He writes

I’m 65, exhaustion HRmax is 188, HRave for 5k is usually 152-154 and interval HRmax is usually 175-179 depending on how hard I push”

He wondered if he should be concerned about being a “high-beater.”

This prompted the skeptical cardiologist to examine the literature on age-predicted maximal heart rate which led to the shocking discovery that the wrong formula is being utilized by most exercise trainers and hospitals.

First , some background.

The peak heart rate achieved with maximal exertion or HRmax has long been known to decline with aging for reasons that are unclear.

The HR achieved with exercise divided by the HRmax x 100 (percentage HRmax) is widely used in clinical medicine and physiology as a basis for prescribing exercise intensity in cardiac rehab programs, disease prevention programs and fitness clinics.

During stress tests we seek to have patients exercise at least until  their heart rate gets to at 85% of HRmax.

The Traditional Formula For HRmax

The formula that is widely used for HRmax is

HRmax = 220-age

It appears to have originated from flawed studies in the early 1970s. These studies included subjects with cardiovascular disease, smokers and patients on cardiac medications.

The Improved HRmax Formula

Tanaka, et al in 2001 performed a meta-analysis of previous data on HRmax along with accumulating data in their own lab. This was the first study to examine healthy, unmedicated, nonsmokers. In addition each subject achieved a verified maximal level of effort as documented by metabolic stress testing.

Their analysis obtained the regression equation (which I term the Tanaka equation)

HRmax = 208-(0.7 x age) 

Below is the graph of the laboratory measurements from which the regression equation was obtained.

Relation between maximal heart rate (HRmax) and age obtained from the prospective, laboratory-based study.(Tanaka, et al)

This graph shows how  inaccurate the traditional equation is, especially in older  individuals like my reader:

Regression lines depicting the relation between maximal heart rate (HRmax) and age obtained from the results derived from our equation (208 − 0.7 × age) (solid linewith 95% confidence interval), as compared with the results derived from the traditional 220 − age equation (dashed line). Maximal heart rates predicted by traditional and current equations, as well as the differences between the two equations, are shown in the table format at the top.(from Tanaka, et al)

The traditional equation in comparison to the Tanaka equation  overestimates HRmaxin young adults, intersects with the present equation at age 40 years and then increasingly underestimates HRmaxwith further increases in age. For example, at age 70 years, the difference between the two equations is ∼10 beats/min. Considering the wide range of individual subject values around the regression line for HRmax(SD ∼10 beats/min), the underestimation of HRmaxcould be >20 beats/min for some older adults.

There are likely lots of perfectly healthy individuals in their sixties and seventies then who have heart rates at maximal exertion that exceed by 10 to 20 beats per minute the HR max predicted by the traditional formula.

This is due to a combination of the inaccuracy of the traditional formula and the wide variation in normal HR max at any given age (standard deviation (SD) of approximately 10 beats/min.)

Thus, my reader at age 65 would have a HRmax predicted by the Tanaka equation as

208-0.7 x 65=162

If we allow for a 10 BPM range of normality above and below 162 BPM we reach 172 BPM which gets close to  but doesn’t reach the reader’s 188 BPM.

If you examine the scatterplot of the Tanaka data you can see that several of the points for age 65 reach into the 180s so chances are my reader is still within normal limits

The Bottom Line on HRmax

The widely used traditional formula for predicting HR max is inaccurate.

Athletes, trainers, physicians and hospitals should switch to using the superior Tanaka HR max formula.

Individuals should keep in mind that there is a wide range of HR response to exercise in normals and variations of 10 BPM above and below the predicted response are common and of no concern.

Chronotropically Yours

-ACP

Addendum. The 220-age formula is so heavily etched into my brain that I used 220 instead of 208 when I initially calculated the predicted max HR for my reader. this has been corrected.Thanks to Chris Sivewright for pointing this out.

Exercise As Medicine: Preventing Age-Related Decline in Cardiac Stiffness

As we age our hearts and arteries become stiffer. This cardiovascular stiffening plays a key role in hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure in older individuals (1).

Age-related cardiac stiffening is worse in those who are sedentary compared to those who exercise regularly (2).

Recent studies strongly suggest that regular exercise can prevent or minimize these age-related changes, thereby hopefully reducing the high rate of heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation in the elderly.

In my post on fitness as a vital sign I briefly mentioned a fascinating study from 2014 which looked at 102 healthy seniors (age>64 years) and stratified them into 1 of 4 groups based on their lifelong histories of endurance exercise training.

Consider which of these 4 categories you fall into:

Sedentary subject-exercised no more than once per week during the prior 25 years.

Casual exercisers-engaged in 2-3 sessions per week

Committed exercisers-performed 4-5 sessions per week

Competitive “Masters level” athletes-trained 6-7 times per week

Exercise sessions were defined as periods of “dynamic activity lasting at least 30 minutes.”

The participants had sophisticated measures of their exercise capacity (max VO2), the size and mass of their left ventricles (cardiac MRI) and the stiffness of their left ventricles (invasive pressure/volume curves to calculate LV compliance and distensibility.)

This graph shows the key finding of the study: a markedly different pressure/volume curve in the sedentary and casual exercisers (blue and red dots) versus the committed or master exercisers. The two curves on the left correspond to a very stiff heart, similar to curves found in patients with heart failure.

The far right curve of competitive exercisers resembles that of a young heart.

The black triangle curve of the committed exerciser is in between these extremes

F5.large-3

The study concludes:

“low doses of casual, lifelong exercise do not prevent the decreased compliance and distensibility observed with healthy, sedentary aging. In contrast, 4 to 5 exercise sessions/week throughout adulthood prevent most of these age-related changes”

It would appear we need at least 4-5 30 minute exercise session per week to forestall the age-related stiffening of the heart and lower our chances of getting heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation.

Since this was an observational study there is always a chance that lack of exercise is not the causes of poor cardiac stiffness.  It is conceivable that those of us with stiffer hearts tend to be more sedentary because of the poor cardiac function.

Can You Reverse The Age-Related Changes In Cardiac Stiffness?

If you have already reached middle age there is still hope for you as these same investigators recently published a study showing that cardiac stiffness can be improved with exercise. These findings imply that lack of exercise is the cause of worsening cardiac stiffness with aging.

This study identified 61 sedentary men in their mid-fifties and randomly assigned them to either 2 years of exercise training or attention control (a combination of yoga, balance, and strength training 3 times per week for 2 years) and measured their LV stiffness and max VO2 before and after intervention.

Max VO2 increased by 18% and LV stiffness declined from .072 to .051 in the exercise group but did not change in the control group.

The exercise training arm of this study involved a mixture of continuous moderate-intensity aerobic exercise combined with high intensity training. The high intensity portion of the program involved exercising at 90-95% of HR maximum for 4 minutes followed by a 3 minute active recovery period, repeated 4 times.

Over a period of 6 months under the guidance of exercise physiologists the participants had their exercise levels gradually increased. After 6 months they were training 5-6 hours per week, including 2 of the “high intensity interval” session and 1 long (>/= 1 hour) and one 30-minute base pace session each week.

By the sixth month, participants were training 5 to 6 hours per week, including 2 interval sessions, and 1 long (at least an hour) and one 30-minute base pace session each week.

How Much Exercise Do We Need To Minimize Cardiac Aging?

This chart from recent European guidelines on lifestyle for prevention of disease describes different intensities of aerobic exercise:

 

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-18-34-am

 

 

 

 

 

These guidelines suggest that if you engage in vigorous exercise such as running or jogging, cycling fast or singles tennis, you only need to achieve 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise such as walking or elliptical work-outs requires at least  150 minutes/week.

Based on these recent studies on exercise and cardiac stiffness and the bulk of scientific literature on the overall health benefits of exercise I would advise for all individuals with or without heart disease

-If you are sedentary, become a committed exerciser.

-Committed exercise means some form of dynamic exercise 4-5 times per week

-If you are already a committed exerciser at moderate intensity levels consider adding to your routine one or two sessions of high intensity interval exercise.

-High intensity exercise will require you to get your heart rate up to 90-95% of your maximum 

-Predicted maximal HR=220 -age.  For a 60 year old this equals 160 BPM. 90% of 160 equals 144 BPM. 

Compliantly Yours,

-ACP

 

 

 

 

Should Fitness Be A Vital Sign?

The skeptical cardiologist routinely probes his patients’ activity and exercise levels and encourages them to engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly. However, I’m somewhat skeptical of the benefit of treating such assessments as a vital sign (like blood pressure or heart rate)  as a recent AHA scientific statement suggests.

I can only envision still another item  on a chart checklist that will have to be recorded in the EHR or already over-worked physicians will have their payments withheld.

The AHA statement suggests that ideally we should be measuring  our patients’ fitness by obtaining  maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) utilizing an expensive and rarely utilized cardiopulmonary exercise test. Failing that we should consider doing a treadmill stress test. Failing that, rather than utilizing my simple question to patients: “How active have you been?”,  the statement recommends doctors utilize some sort of formal questionnaire to estimate their patients’ cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) such as the one at World Fitness Level.

I went online to take this CRF estimator (based on this paper) and I remain skeptical.

The online site and  a free smartphone app both ask the following questions:

  • Country and City
  • Ethnicity
  • Highest Level of Education
  • Gender/Age/Height/Weight
  • Resting and Maximal Pulse
  • How often do you exercise?
  • How long is your workout each time? (over/under 30 minutes)
  • How hard do you train? (I had to choose between “I go all out”or “Little hard breathing and sweating”)

 

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-33-13-amWhen you have finished answering the questions you are given an estimate of your fitness age. When I did this online a few days ago and answered truthfully I got the result to the right: I had the fitness of a 41 year old with an estimated VO2 max of 49 ! (interestingly this estimate corresponds exactly with VO2 max derived from a recent stress test I completed.)

I used the app (which unlike the online version did not ask me my waistline measurement) and changed a few parameters:

  • I increased my resting heart rate or pulse  from 60 to 68 beats per minute (BPM)
  • I increased my maximal heart rate from what I know is 158 BPM to what the app calculated (173 BPM, which makes no sense)
  • I switched from exercising 2-3 times per week  and longer than 30 minutes  at “all out” level to the lowest level for all 3 questions.

The change was dramatic and depressing: I went from 39 years old to 67 years old in the bat of an eyelid!img_8073

 

 

 

The app and online site direct you to a non-profit site where you can get information on a 7 week program to increase your fitness level. I haven’t checked this out.

I’ll be trying out this CRF estimator on my patients: assessing whether it adds anything to my usual line of questioning on activity and fitness.

I encourage you to give the CRF estimator a try. Let me know in the comments how you feel it works for you. Does it motivate you to exercise more knowing that, for example, your fitness age is substantially higher than your chronological age?

Running For Longevity: From A-Punk to Aba Daba Honeymoon

About two years ago I wrote about a study that found that any amount of leisure-time running was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease which  made me reconsider my usual advice to patients on exercise:

As part of a prospective longitudinal cohort study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, Lee, et al. looked at data from a group of 55,137 adults on whom they had information on running or jogging activity during the previous 3 months.
Those individuals who described themselves as having done any running in the last 3 months had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 45% lower cardiovascular mortality.

Amazingly, it didn’t matter how much you ran.

Those who ran <51 minutes per week did just as well as those who ran >176 minutes per week.

At the time I felt the study was not definitive, but food for thought. Evidently, it got me thinking so much that I began running regularly (despite my previous dislike of running).

Music and the Tempo of Running

During my runs I listen to music on my iPhone, either through Apple Music or songs that I have purchased.

Today, after deciding Leonard Cohen’s Live in Dublin (although awesome, and one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard) was not motivating enough, I hit the first song on my iPhone: A-punk by Vampire Weekend.

A-Punk is one of my favorite songs released in the last decade. It’s very upbeat.. perfect for a running accompaniment. The opening guitar riff is simple, fast and catchy. It’s simple enough that I can play it on guitar but, so fast that my fingers fatigue quickly.  The bridge portion features a wonderfully fast and complicated bass line with punchy drums and an overlying synth flute melody. You can watch a video of it here:

As I ran I realized that the tempo of A-Punk was perfectly suited to my preferred running speed of 6.1 MPH. You’re probably wondering what the tempo of A-Punk is. It’s likely that the only time song tempo comes up in general conversation is when talking about CPR and the need to compress the sternum at 100 beats per minute, the alleged tempo of The Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive (it’s actually 104 BPM.)

A-Punk’s tempo turned out to be 175 BPM. If you are not inclined to count the actual beats in a minute to determine the tempo of a song, you can enter the song into this site to get the number or download a smart phone app for the purpose.

Oddly enough, the next song on my alphabetical listing of songs, Hoagy Carmichael’s version of Aba Daba Honeymoon, also had a screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-8-45-44-amtempo (174 BPM) perfectly suited to my running speed. (The song after that was my old band Whistling Cadaver attempting to play the medley at the end of Abbey Road at our 30 year high school reunion in 2002-not good for running to, but immensely entertaining).

Monetizing Music For Running

Having observed that the tempo of certain songs matched perfectly to my running tempo, I wondered if there were any advantages to selecting such songs. Would I run faster or longer or with less discomfort or less injuries?

The web site run2rhythm would certainly like me to believe that screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-45-42-amrunning to the right tempo song will improve my performance. This site claims that “the wrong musical playlists can be detrimental to your training as they will not provide any synchronization between the body, the music and the mind. The body is almost always out of sync with the music.”

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-03-39-amRun2rhythm provides a chart of the BPM that corresponds to different running speeds and sells playlists starting at $3.99 corresponding to specific tempos. These are playlists by unknown artists created for run2rhythm and the samples were not inspiring to me.

Here’s an example:screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-9-05-39-am

 

 

Is Music a Legal Drug For Athletes?

It turns out that there is a body of scientific literature related to music and exercise, and the vast majority of it seems to come from one man,  Dr Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University in London, an expert on the effects of music on exercise.  In his 2010 book, Inside Sport Psychology, he claims that listening to music while running can boost performance by up to 15%.

In media articles on the topic he is often quoted as saying “Music is a legal drug for athletes.”

However, in a 2012 review article he is more circumspect, concluding:

Music is now rarely viewed in a manner akin to the ‘vitamin model’ described by Sloboda (2008) wherein one can ascribe immutable effects to a specific musical selection for all listeners and at all times. The beneficial consequences of music use stem from an interaction between elements of the musical stimulus itself and factors relating to the traits and experiences of the listener, and aspects of the exercise environment and task. In particular, the role of music is dependent on when it is introduced in relation to the task and the intensity of the exercise undertaken. In closing, the evidence presented in this review demonstrates that music has a consistent and measurable effect on the psychological state and behaviour of exercise participants

Creating Your Own Tempo Playlist

The research on music and exercise suggests that songs with inspirational themes (apparently, “Gonna Fly Now,” the Rocky theme, is the most popular workout song of all time) are more effective performance enhancers. Also, self-selection of songs works better.

For me, running while listening allows me to focus on nuances of instrumentation, timing  and lyrics that otherwise I would not pay attention to. It is essential, then, to have songs that are worthy of such close listening.

I wondered if anyone has compiled lists of songs of a certain BPM that were originals and good songs.  Sure enough, the folks at jog.fm have exactly such a function.  My search for songs with tempo of 175 BPM yielded A-Punk and hundreds of other songs, screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-10-58-amincluding some I like (thumbs down for Footloose and Wonderwall (which is really 1/2 of 175 BPM or  88 BPM), thumbs up for Dancing With Myself).

You will note that my preferred tempo of 175 BPM corresponds to a much faster running speed than my preferred 6.1 MPH. This may have to do with my short legs or my running style. It makes sense to count the number of steps you take per minute at your optimal speed rather than rely on charts or averages.

Achieving the Right Dose of Exercise

Whatever you listen to while running, walking, cycling or hopping, hopefully it will assist you to achieve the dose of exercise per week that results in improved cardiovascular outcomes.

This chart from recent European guidelines on lifestyle for prevention of disease describes different intensities of aerobic exercise:

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-10-18-34-am
If you engage in vigorous exercise such as running or jogging, cycling fast or singles tennis, you only need to achieve 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise such as walking or elliptical work-outs requires 150 minutes/week.

As a result of switching to running, I’ve cut down my total exercise time per week by half leaving me more time to create music!

Readers – feel free to share your favorite workout songs and let me know what tempo works best for you.

Synchronously Yours,

-ACP

Yikes! This is a silly video. I’m not sure I can run to the song anymore.

 

 

Is Exercise Impotent In Preventing Obesity?

What if all that exercise that authorities have been recommending  is not helping to stem the rising tide of obesity?

What if all calories don’t have the same ability to add fat?

These twin heresies fly in the face of the usual dogma on the cause of obesity: more calories in (gluttony) than calories out (sloth). The skeptical cardiologist has been pondering these possibilities for some time, since reading Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories.

I have been advising my patients through this blog and during office visits that added sugar and  refined  carbohydrates are much more of a culprit in their  weight gain than fat, thus embracing the concept that there are good calories and bad calories

Exercise and Obesity

5Boro Bike Riders crossing the summit of the Queensboro aka 59th Street aka "Feelin Groovy" Bridge

But I also spend a lot of time during my office visits discussing activity levels and encouraging my patients to engage in moderate aerobic physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week.

I do this because there is good evidence that regular physical activity is associated with lower cardiovascular risk, cancer risk, mortality, and improved brain, muscle, and bone function. Exactly  what level and type of exercise is needed to reap these benefits is still up for debate.

I, personally, engage in regular moderate exercise and I think it helps maintain my weight where I want it.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

A recent editorial in the British Journal of Sport Medicine stridently  makes the claim that exercise is not useful for weight loss as conventional wisdom teaches and that the food industry has been promoting exercise while simultaneously promoting junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages (The link I provided is no longer active because the journal has removed the editorial -“This paper has been temporarily removed following an expression of concern.”)

The authors wrote:

“members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a healthy weight through calorie counting, and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry’s Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco. “

Root Causes of Obesity

It would appear that science cannot tell us with total certainty what the cause of our current obesity epidemic is.

After publishing a paper in 2014 that suggested Americans had become less active over the last 20 years, Ladabaum, et al admitted this:

“Although there is no clear answer at this time regarding the relative contribution of energy intake or physical activity (or other variables including dietary components, patterns of activity, and environmental factors, including the gut micro biome) to the public health problem of obesity, we believe that public health messages should continue to emphasize the importance of both a healthy diet and remaining physically active throughout life.”

Is Exercise Amount  A Cause or Effect?

In my own practice, I have observed a tendency for  those patients who regularly exercise or have very physically active jobs to stay thin whereas those who don’t exercise, especially if they have sedentary jobs or are retired, tend to be obese and gain weight.

But, I also note that those patients who take my recommendations on exercise to heart  are also listening to my advice in other areas, including diet and medications and are, in general, much more proactive about their health.

Therefore, I can’t say for sure whether it is the exercise  or the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle (including diet)  being followed in any individual patient that is keeping the pounds off. How much my patients move during the day when they are not specifically exercising may also be playing a role and is hard for me to assess.

There is also the mind-boggling possibility, as Gary Taubes has written about (here and in his book Why We Get Fat) that our genetics are driving both our activity levels and our food consumption:

Ultimately, the relationship between physical activity and fatness comes down to the question of cause and effect. Is Lance Armstrong excessively lean because he burns off a few thousand calories a day cycling, or is he driven to expend that energy because his body is constitutionally set against storing calories as fat? If his fat tissue is resistant to accumulating calories, his body has little choice but to burn them as quickly as possible: what Rony and his contemporaries called the “activity impulse”—a physiological drive, not a conscious one. His body is telling him to get on his bike and ride, not his mind. Those of us who run to fat would have the opposite problem. Our fat tissue wants to store calories, leaving our muscles with a relative dearth of energy to burn. It’s not willpower we lack, but fuel. “

I’m not ready to accept the heresy that exercise and activity have nothing to do with weight gain or loss. I, like most cardiologists, walk the walk and talk the talk of regular vigorous exercise for health benefits, extended longevity, cardiovascular fitness and for helping in weight control.

Exercise is not the be all and end all of weight control because increased consumption of bad or good calories can overcome the most prolonged and intense workouts but it is a useful adjunct.

Still exercising regularly,

-ACP

Does Any Amount of Leisure-Time Running Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack?

1310552547_gumpThe skeptical cardiologist dislikes running. When I start running my whole body seems to be telling me I am making a serious mistake. After running, my knees hurt (worse than the normal level of pain) and if I do enough of it, my hips hurt too.

Despite this, I have incorporated running into my exercise routine over the last few years since I stopped playing tennis. I primarily get my aerobic exercise now by using elliptical type devices and I try to get at least 150 minutes of vigorous elliptical work per week. About once a week, I run a mile on a treadmill at 6 MPH.

My current patient exercise recommendation is for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.  I have advised patients in the past, that walking at a moderate pace was adequate exercise, and I’ve felt, based on prior studies, that running was not necessary to achieve the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.

Any Running Associated With Lower Risk of Dying

A new study published recently in JACC has made me reconsider this advice.

As part of a prospective longitudinal cohort study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, Lee, et al. looked at data from a group of 55,137 adults on whom they had information on running or jogging activity during the previous 3 months.

To reduce confounding bias in the association between running and mortality, the total amount of other physical activities except running was adjusted in all multivariable regression models.

They obtained information on death from The National Death Index and over 15 years found 3,413 all-cause death and 1,217 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Those individuals who described themselves as having done any running in the last 3 months had a 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 45% lower cardiovascular mortality.

As you might expect, the non-runners were older, smoked more and were fatter. The investigators ran analyses that controlled for the differences in these factors. The protective effect of running, even a small amount, persisted, regardless of age, gender, body mass index, smoking or alcohol consumption.

Amazingly, it didn’t matter how much you ran.

This finding is quite remarkable.

Those who ran <51 minutes per week did just as well as those who ran >176 minutes per week.

Of the 20,67 that had two examinations, those who were runners at both examinations had the best outcomes with a 50% lower risk of CVD mortality.

These findings are not definitive. We need more studies in this area but they are food for thought.

Why Would Running Be A Better Form of Exercise For Your Heart

Some thoughts…

Perhaps the person who doesn’t want to run has a fundamentally different mindset about his/her health than the person who is willing to run just a little bit. Does this inclination to run mirror the person’s overall approach to their health? We can assess factors like cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes and cholesterol but there are likely (so far) intangible factors that contribute to our health that tend to cluster with a pro-active health attitude.

Why do I run? After all, I don’t like it, it hurts my knees and I didn’t think it was contributing to my overall health. I did the mile run for a few reasons:

Running a mile in 10 minutes served as a milestone, a fixed goal if you will, for my cardiovascular fitness. I can get a very good idea of where I’m at by measuring my heart rate. I’m 60 years old and my predicted maximal heart rate (220 minus age) is 160. When I’m out of shape, my heart rate will get as high as 155 BPM during the mile, when in shape it is 10 BPM lower. 145 BPM is 91% of my predicted maximal HR.

My sense is  that a good goal for cardiovascular fitness is to get the heart rate up to 90% or so of your predicted maximal. It may be that running more reliably gets you to that threshold than other activities.

Also, as the significant other of the skeptical cardiologist points out, “you can’t cheat at running.” There’s a certain amount of effort you have to put into it and there’s no way to escape it as there is on a bicycle or an elliptical. With walking you could choose a speed ranging from the snail-like up to 4 MPH or so.

Those who don’t run may also have orthopedic limitations (plantar fasciitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis) or pulmonary problems (COPD, asthma) or undiagnosed heart problems (heart failure, valve defects, rhythm problems) that are not captured by the examinations the investigators performed.

These findings, the authors of the paper suggest, may make people more likely to run:

“Because time is one of the strongest barriers to participate in physical activity, this study may motivate more people to start running and continue to run as an attainable health goal for mortality benefits. Compared with moderate-intensity activity, vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, may be a better option for time efficiency, producing similar, if not greater, mortality benefits in 5 to 10 min/day in many healthy but sedentary individuals who may find 15 to 20 min/day of moderate-intensity activity too time consuming.”

Some Possible Mechanisms For The Benefits of Running

As I was putting the finishing touches on this post I notice that the Sept 23 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology sitting in front of me has two articles that are directly relevant to this issue. I haven’t had time to analyze these in detail but the conclusions of the first study  are that

“low doses of casual, lifelong exercise do not prevent the decreased compliance and distensibility observed with healthy, sedentary aging. In contrast, 4 to 5 exercise sessions/week throughout adulthood prevent most of these age-related changes”

Thus, the mechanism through which running or more “committed” exercising improves survival could be mediated through improving the diastolic properties of the heart.

I spent most of my academic cardiology career studying diastolic function and it is an incredibly complicated and poorly understood area. Simply put, the heart has to contract to pump out blood (we call this systole) then it has to fill back up with blood (we call this diastole). With aging, the heart’s ability to contract doesn’t change but its ability to fill changes dramatically. Thus, diastolic properties become impaired with aging and this study suggests that dedicated regular exercise prevents that.

The other study showed that regular exercise helps to slow  age-related increase in blood pressure.  Lower blood pressure with aging could be a mechanism for preventing the age-related decline in diastolic performance of the heart.

Changing Exercise Prescription

From now on when I talk to my patients about exercise, I will inquire about running specifically and I’ll mention these studies which suggest a little running may go along way toward forestalling the aging process of the heart and lowering their risk of dying.

 

Urban Cycling Part I: Does Biking To Work Make You More or Less Likely to Die?

5Boro Bike Riders crossing the summit of the Queensboro aka 59th Street aka "Feelin Groovy" Bridge
5Boro Bike Riders crossing the summit of the Queensboro aka 59th Street aka “Feelin Groovy” Bridge. For some reason the significant other of the skeptical cardiologist (SOSC) has decided to stop here to look at her cell phone, thereby creating a traffic hazard.

The skeptical cardiologist recently participated in the 5 Boro New York City Bike Tour. It was quite cool.

This annual event allows 32,000 bike riders to stream from Manhattan to the Bronx to Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island along 40 miles of traffic-free (except for thousands of cyclists) roads

Unlike my previous rides in Brooklyn and Manhattan (under the guidance of legendary Park Slope flaneur, NYC biking advocate, and old high school chum David Alquist) I was not in constant peril from automobile encounters because we cyclists had the mean streets of New York all to ourselves.

Take a look at this video to understand “why cyclists come from around the world for an experience of the Big Apple unlike any other”.

Urban Cycling as Transportation

The NYC event, and the fact that this is “bike to work week,” lead me to ponder aspects of urban bike riding, specifically, cycling as transportation.  Since cycling is physical exercise and there is scientific evidence (observational studies only) linking regular physical activity to a significant cardiovascular risk reduction, we might expect that it would help us live longer. 

A reasonable physical activity goal , endorsed by most authorities,  is to engage in moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 min on 5 days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 min on 3 days each week. This level of exercise helps with weight control, fitness and is associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular disease .

METS:calories
METs and calories consumed per hour for various physical activities

The metabolic equivalent of task (MET) is a measure of the energy cost of physical activity. The chart to the left gives METs for various activities.  Individuals should be aiming for 500–1,000 MET min/week. Leisure cycling or cycling to work (15 km/hr) has a MET value of 4 and is characterized as a moderate activity  A person shifting from car to bicycle for a daily short distance of 7.5 km would meet the minimum recommendation (7.5 km at 15 km/hr = 30 min) for physical activity in 5 days (4 MET × 30 min × 5 days = 600 MET min/week).

 

Thus, cycling to work for many individuals would provide the daiy physical activity that is recommended for cardiovascular benefits. However, cycling in general, and urban cycling in particular, carries a significant risk of trauma and death from accidents and possibly greater exposure to urban pollutants.

bikversuscardeaths
from CBS (Statistics Netherlands) Traffic and Transport, 2008

This table shows the estimated numbers of traffic deaths per age category per billion passenger kilometers traveled by bicycle and by car (driver and passenger) in the Netherlands for 2008. These data suggest that there are about 5.5 times more traffic deaths per kilometer traveled by bicycle than by car for all ages. Interestingly, there is no increase in risk for individuals aged 15-30 years. On the other hand , those of us in the “baby-boomer” generation (?slowed reflexes, poor eyesight, impaired hearing) and older are at an 8 to 17 fold increase risk.

In the Netherlands, where a very large percentage of the population regularly rides bikes, there has been considerable scientific study of the overall health consequences of biking and we have reasonably good data on the question of relative safety of biking versus driving a car for short distances. You can watch the happy people of Groningen (“the world’s cycling city”, where 57% of the journeys in the city are made by bicycle) riding their bikes below.

Health Impact of Transition from Car to Bike for Short Trips

One study quantified the impact on all-cause mortality if 500,000  people made a  transition from car to bicycle for short trips on a daily basis in the Netherlands and concluded

For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3–14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8–40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5–9 days lost). Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.

Apart from the highest average distance cycled per person, the Netherlands is also one of the safest countries in terms of fatal traffic accidents so it’s reasonable to ask whether these data apply to other countries. This study concluded

 When  traffic accident calculations for the United Kingdom were utilized, where the risk of dying per 100 million km for a cyclist is about 2.5 times higher, the overall benefits of cycling were still 7 times larger than the risks.

If you decide to bike to work this week, braving the elements , the possible automobile collisions and the automobile exhaust you can rest comfortably with the thought that not only are you  prolonging your own life but by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution you are contributing to the health of everyone around you.