Archive for May, 2009

Predicting healthy aging

One of the most comprehensive and longest longitudinal studies of adult development — certainly of adult American males — is the Harvard Grant Study. Among its findings:

There are “seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically,”

  • Employing mature adaptions, e.g. “altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse of conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship)”;
  • Education;
  • Stable marriage;
  • Not smoking;
  • Not abusing alcohol;
  • Some exercise;
  • Healthy weight.

Half of the men studied with at least five of these protective factors were classified as “happy-well” at age 80, and 7.5% percent were classified as “sad-sick.” In contrast, not a single man who had three or fewer of these factors by the age of 50 could be classified as “happy-well” at age 80. And controlling for physical fitness and health, “the men who had three or fewer protective factors were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more factors.”

This information comes from Joshua Wolf Shenk’s lengthy and fascinating article for the Atlantic Monthly, titled “What Makes Us Happy?

What has no bearing on our ability “to work and love as we grow old”? Some surprises: “Cholesterol levels at age 50 have nothing to do with health in old age.”

Also, “Reguar exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than did physical health.”

Fun fact: President John F. Kennedy was a subject in the Grant Study.

More here.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood


May 27, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

The (barefoot) revolution, cont.

The painful truth about trainers. Are running shoes a waste of money?“, by Christopher McDougall, is perhaps the single best article I have read about the barefoot running revolution.

In a paper for the British Journal Of Sports Medicine last year, Dr Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed there are no evidence-based studies that demonstrate running shoes make you less prone to injury. Not one.

It was an astonishing revelation that had been hidden for over 35 years. Dr Richards was so stunned that a $20 billion industry seemed to be based on nothing but empty promises and wishful thinking that he issued the following challenge: ‘Is any running-shoe company prepared to claim that wearing their distance running shoes will decrease your risk of suffering musculoskeletal running injuries? Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their running shoes will improve your distance running performance? If you are prepared to make these claims, where is your peer-reviewed data to back it up?’

More here. (Big hat tip to MH.)

A few years back when Asics unveiled their $180 Kinsei running shoes, I wrote a post on a now defunct blog about how high-end running shoes are “a waste of money“:

[From October, 2007]

Waste of money! This is the conclusion of Scottish researchers about high-priced, high-end running shows.

Researchers at the Institute of Motion Analysis and Research at the University of Dundee conducted a study comparing the comfort and cushioning of running shoes priced from $80-$90, $120-$130, and $140-$150 from the three largest running shoe manufacturers. Their findings?

“From what we found, [the difference] seems to be pure advertisement,” said lead researcher Rami Abboud.

From an article on Forbes magazine about the study:

“When it came to shock absorption, some shoes performed better than others on different areas of the foot, but no clear pattern emerged. In fact, plantar pressure was actually lower for the cheap-to-moderately priced footwear compared to more high-end gear, although this difference did not reach statistical significance, the researchers said.”

The single most important thing when choosing a running shoe is fit. Don’t look at the price tag or be hypnotized by the neon colors and the claims of using space-age materials for a $15o pair of sneakers. Instead, visit your local running store, have one of their employees analyze your gait and foot structure (done free at good and reputable shops), and take a number of pairs of shoes out on a test run. Many running stores even let you return running shoes within a few weeks of purchase if they do not properly fit your feet or feel comfortable.

As a bit of an aside, I can’t help but think that the running shoe market is a bit like the fitness and diet industry…

To maintain fitness and lose weight, we all seem to want some kind of magic pill, a wonder drug, or the latest straight-from-the-beaches-of-Miami-and-the-hills-of-Hollywood buckwheat and grapefruit miracle diet. The best way to maintain healthy weight and fitness: eat balanced and exercise regularly. But this prescription cannot be packaged, marketed, sold, and easily consumed.

Similarly, there is nothing sexy or sophisticated about how to choose a good pair of shoes. Simply get a pair that hug your feet, feel comfortable, and support your running style. Yet many of us “ooh” and “ahh” when a new $180 running shoe enters the market; we think that by buying them we can run faster. Just two weeks ago I heard a guy at a local 5K charity run complaining that, “The only reason I lost to Jim [his training buddy, from what I could surmise] is because he got those fancy new Kinsei’s [Asics “top of the line” and incredibly popular $180 running shoe].”

To this guy, and to everyone else who buys fancy-looking and expensive running shoes for their performance advantage: the only way to run faster is to run faster. At a certain point — once you start looking at mid-level running-specific shoes — the model number doesn’t matter.

Even if I was wearing $170 Nike Air Max 360 running shoes, Scott Jurek can beat me in a race wearing Chuck Taylor’s.

It ain’t the shoes, baby. Save your money!

But dang, those Asics Kinsei’s do look sexy!


(In his article, McDougall notes that “Asics spent $3 million and eight years — three more years than it took to create the first atomic bomb — to invent the Kinsei, a shoe that boasts ‘multi-angled forefoot gel pods’, and a ‘midfoot thrust enhancer’.)

Save your money, get fast, and free your feet! The revolution is on!

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

May 19, 2009 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Persistence hunt: Who will collapse first? The man or the animal?

“The most ancient hunting technique of all — the persistence hunt … It’s a test of endurance. Who will collapse first? The man or the animal? This was how men hunted before they had weapons, when a hunter had nothing more than his own physical endurance with which to gain his prize.”


play, think…
J.R. Atwood

May 8, 2009 at 4:40 pm 1 comment

Barefoot running: (Almost) all you need to know

There are two absolute must read articles about the idea of (semi-) barefoot running, and how this emerging trend is influencing the athletic shoe industry.

The first is a story by Tyghe Trimble in Popular Mechanics about “the running shoe debate“:

A group of running rebels are shedding their shoes and reporting years of injury-free miles. Some ultramarathoners, biomechanics experts and doctors think that’s probably a good thing. Others go so far as to say running shoes are in fact causing injuries. Meanwhile, running shoe companies continue to precisely measure runners, and pound and flex shoes in their high-tech labs. Could shoes—and shoe companies—be covering hundreds of thousands of perfectly able bare feet? If shoes are doing damage, just what are the companies measuring?

The second article is by “lifestyle design” expert Tim Ferriss (he of “The 4-Hour Workweek” fame), who posted an incredibly interesting and knowledge-rich review of Vibram FiveFingers shoes. His article, “The Barefoot Alternative,” also explains the anatomical science of the human foot, and provides links to resources to learn more about Chi Running and the Pose Method of Running.

I myself have been running in Nike’s contribution to the almost-barefoot revolution, the Free 3.0, for over two years. When I made the switch into these glove-like slippers, my once-chronic knee and shin pains disappeared immediately. And for those with concerns about wearing something that seems so antithetical to the “ideal” running shoe (or at least as we have been led to believe), worry not! I have run multiple marathons in my Nike Free’s without any skeletal or muscular discomfort. Further, of the many dozens of people whom I have convinced to trade-in their stabilizing and cushioned athletic trainers, every single one of them swears by these svelte foot-covers as the cause for their faster race times and painless running experiences.

As much as I have enjoyed the Nike Free line of shoes, I think it may be time to be even more… Free. I just placed my order for Vibram FiveFingers. After a few months of running in them, I’ll post my own review.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

May 8, 2009 at 7:45 am 3 comments

Motivation: David Goggins, 100 Mile Man [Repost]

I recently re-watched this awesome video of ultra-stud David Goggins for a little motivation to push through the last few weeks of the semester…

“When you think you are done… You are only 40% in to what your body is capable of doing. That’s just a limit we put on ourselves.”

Doin’ it.

play, think…
J. R. Atwood

May 6, 2009 at 1:38 am Leave a comment

Not as good as you think: The myth of the middle class school

For those in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) is hosting a screening of the documentary, “Not As Good As You Think: The Myth of the Middle Class School.”

The May 12 event will include a discussion with the executive producer of the film, Lance Izumi, and its director, Nick Tucker.

Online registration for the event can be done here.

This documentary is a companion to PRI’s book of the same name, which explains “why the middle class needs school choice.”

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

May 6, 2009 at 1:27 am Leave a comment

Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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