Recovery Strategies, Heat Acclimation Training for Cyclists, Healthy Lifestyle vs. Genetics


We’ve got three useful articles to point out.  One deals with recovery strategies for runners, specifically why damage is a good thing.  (I imagine this information will apply to other types of athletes–cyclists, swimmers, weightlifters/bodybuilders for instance).  Another article discusses research into how training in the heat can increase cycling performance in both hot and cool conditions.  Finally, research suggests a healthy lifestyle can affect cardiovascular health more than genetics.

When Damage Is A Good Thing

Steve Magness is a Washington, D.C. area runner and exercise scientist who writes a blog called the Science of Running.  Recently he’s written a piece for Running Times called When Damage is a Good Thing.  Magness does a good job of explaining the training adaptation cycle:

“We improve from training by putting our body through stress that it normally does not encounter. When the body encounters these stressors, whether it is a decrease in oxygen, increase in lactate or low glycogen stores, it responds by increasing our ability to deal with the stressors, thereby improving our running performance. The stress, recover and adapt cycle is the foundation of training.”

Most important to the article though is the discussion of how recovery methods such as anti-inflammatories, ice baths, and antioxidants may impede the adaptations we’re looking for.  Magness states:

“All of this scientific theory and research sounds good, but what does it mean practically?  It doesn’t mean that antioxidants, ice baths, Advil or taking a Gatorade while running is necessarily bad. It means using those items at the wrong time or after the wrong workout could negate some of those hard-earned training adaptations. The key is to understand when it’s beneficial to use those methods and when to avoid them.”

Read the whole article to understand the strategy Magness recommends.  It’s certainly an issue worth pondering if you’re a serious athlete–endurance athlete or otherwise.

Heat Conditioning for Cyclists

Science Daily gives us an article titled Exercising in the Heat May Improve Athletic Performance in Cool and Hot Conditions.  Researchers at the University of Oregon studied two groups of cyclists: one group underwent heat acclimation while training and the other group worked out in a cool environment.  What did the researchers learn?

The study found performance increases of approximately 7 percent after 10 heat acclimation exposures. “In terms of competitive cycling, 7 percent is a really big increase and could mean that cyclists could use this approach to improve their performance in cooler weather conditions,” said researcher Santiago Lorenzo.

Healthy Lifestyle Wins Out Over Genetics

The final article,  Healthy Lifestyle Has Bigger Impact on Cardiovascular Health Than Genetics, also comes from Science Daily.  There are two big points from this article which discusses two studies.

  • To stay healthy in older age,  five key healthy behaviors should be adopted while young.  Those behaviors are: not smoking, low or no alcohol intake, weight control, physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • One of the studies states, “only a small proportion of cardiovascular health is passed from parent to child; instead, it appears that the majority of cardiovascular health is due to lifestyle and healthy behaviors.”  Thus we see that poor genetics is sort of a straw man when it comes to determining our health.  It’s our own behavior that’s far more important.

Cardio Health Correlates to Smarts


A strong link between cardiovascular fitness in adolescence and cognitive ability in adulthood has been demonstrated in by American and Swedish researchers.  The study is discussed in Science Daily and it focuses on 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976 who enlisted for mandatory military service at the age of 18.  On several assessments of cognitive function test scores increased along with aerobic fitness levels.  (That’s pretty cool.)  On the other hand, intelligence scores didn’t not track with muscle strength.  (That’s sort of a bummer.)  We’re told that the rapidly changing adolescent brain seems particularly sensitive to fitness levels, and that being fit during these years is quite important to brain power in adulthood.  Researchers admit that this fitness/intelligence effect is poorly understood.

“In every measure of cognitive functioning they analyzed — from verbal ability to logical performance to geometric perception to mechanical skills — average test scores increased according to aerobic fitness.”

Though I haven’t read the entire study, we should take note of several strong points.  First, the sample size of 1.2 million is fairly large.  Second, subjects were studied for several years.  Finally, the study even looked at pairs of twins.  Fit twins were smarter than their unfit siblings.  This suggests that fitness is indeed the cause of greater intelligence rather than a genetic influence.  The study’s main weak point is that it was conducted on Swedish men only.

I’ve got a several opinions.  First, this study should be mandatory reading for every public official, every principal, every teacher and every grade-schooler in the country.  For years physical education has been cut from schools in favor of more classroom time spent sitting and “learning.”  If this study is sound then clearly we need to add a fourth R to the equation: Readin’, Ritin’, ‘Rithmatic & Runnin’ Around.

Can we see a little further here?  Can we see a way not only to very nearly fix our creaking health care system–but also to regain America’s status as the most inventive, creative nation on earth?  As an incentive for more kids to be more physically active, I’d like to see an optional physical fitness equivalent of the SATs.  Colleges could offer tuition breaks for students with good scores.

Finally, why is cardiovascular fitness is tied so strongly to intelligence but not strength?  More specifically I’d like to know where the line is drawn–because in fact there is no line as I see it but rather a gradient.  From the shot put to the marathon, our heart, lungs, and muscles must work to accomplish the task; and it’s all driven by our nervous system.  It’s not like we turn off our lungs in order to throw a fastball, or shut down our muscles to run or bike for several hours.

To parse it a bit more, are ultra-marathoners smarter than 10k runners?  Are Ironman triathletes smarter than track cyclists?  Are 100 meter sprinters the least intelligent of the cardiovascularly fit among us?  What about rowers, basketball players, boxers, wrestlers, hockey players, tennis players, soccer players, rugby players, volleyball players and rock climbers?  Those sports require  you to be aerobically fit and strong.  This is a fascinating study and I hope someone expands on it.