The Workout Routine of Julien Farel, U.S. Open Hairstylist

The Wall Street Journal reports how Julien Farel, official hairstylist of the U.S. Open, works and keeps in shape. Mr. Farel has an intense schedule, cutting the hair of some 30 to 50 people a day. So he needs a routine to stay in shape:

Mr. Farel is up at 5 a.m. on weekdays so he can run before work. He runs year round, in rain or snow. “I never check the weather because it is only an excuse not to run,” he says. He’ll run between 6 to 9 miles along the West Side Highway. When he stops to do upper body and core exercises, he’ll do three sets of 10 push-ups and three sets of 10 pull-ups. “I found an eating kiosk where I can hang from the roof and do pull-ups,” he says. “If it is raining, I can do my crunches and push-ups under cover there.”

Post-run, he stretches in a hot shower. He is religious about stretching his hands and fingers. “My hands are my job so I need to maintain flexibility and avoid arthritis,” he says. “I need as much dexterity as possible.” He might squeeze a small ball 30 times to strengthen his fingers, sometimes using just four fingers or two.

A lot of what Mr. Farel does I have been able to do over the last six months. For instance, many days I skip lunch entirely (all hail intermittent fasting) and have a thirty or forty minute run at the gym. I also skip breakfast. So this was interesting:

Mr. Farel takes in nearly all of his daily calories at dinner. He dines at restaurants with clients and friends at least three nights a week. “I go all out and get an appetizer, an entree, and dessert,” he says. “I don’t feel guilty at all because I need the calories to carry me on my run the next morning.”

Who knew you needed so much stamina to style hair!

The Molecular Basis in How Exercise Changes the Human Body

A recent paper published on PLoS One explains the molecular basis of how exercise changes the human body’s muscles and fat cells. Turns out, it’s the methylation (addition of CH3-groups) to various DNA segments that has the capacity to turn on/off certain genes. The New York Times summarizes:

Of the new studies, perhaps the most tantalizing, conducted principally by researchers affiliated with the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and published last month in PLoS One, began by recruiting several dozen sedentary but generally healthy adult Swedish men and sucking out some of their fat cells. Using recently developed molecular techniques, the researchers mapped the existing methylation patterns on the DNA within those cells. They also measured the men’s body composition, aerobic capacity, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and similar markers of health and fitness.

Then they asked the men to start working out. Under the guidance of a trainer, the volunteers began attending hour-long spinning or aerobics classes approximately twice a week for six months. By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns. In most cases, the genes had become more methylated, but some had fewer methyl groups attached. Both situations affect how those genes express proteins.

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

So what?

The overarching implication of the study’s findings, says Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at the Karolinska Institute and senior author of the study, is that DNA methylation changes are probably “one of the earliest adaptations to exercise” and drive the bodily changes that follow.

Quite interesting.The field of epigenetics is fascinating.

Is It Possible to Get Too Much Exercise?

Is it possible that there is an upper limit to how much exercise the body can take? The answer seems to be yes:

For some time, exercise scientists, as well as a few highly committed exercisers and their spouses, have wondered if there might be an upper limit to the amount of exertion that is healthy, especially for the human heart. While the evidence is overwhelming that exercise improves heart health in most people and reduces the risk of developing or dying of heart disease, there have been intimations that people can do too much. A 2011 study of male, lifelong, competitive endurance athletes aged 50 or older, for instance, found that they had more fibrosis — meaning scarring — in their heart muscle than men of the same age who were active but not competitive athletes.

Now the latest Vasaloppet study and a separate study of rats running the equivalent of several rodent marathons that was published this month in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology are likely to further the debate about possible upper limits to safe exercise. Providing some counterbalance, though, is another animal study, published this month in PLoS One, that suggests that even if strenuous prolonged exercise increases the chances of some arrhythmias, it may lessen the chance of suffering fatal heart problems.

I’m not training for an ultra-endurance event anytime soon…

The Evolutionary Paradox of Exercise

Slate has an interview with evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, who explains the paradox between exercise being good for us and it feeling like a chore.

Q: What are the consequences of the modern sedentary lifestyle?
DL: It’s hard to think of one disease that is not affected by physical activity. Take the two major killers: heart disease and cancer. The heart requires exercise to grow properly. Exercise increases the peripheral arteries and decreases your cholesterol levels; it decreases your risk of heart disease by at least half.

Breast cancers and many other reproductive tissue cancers also respond strongly to exercise. Other factors being constant, women who have engaged in regular vigorous exercise have significantly lower cancer rates than women who have not. Colon cancer has been shown to be reduced by up to 30 percent by exercise. There are also benefits for mental health—depression, anxiety, the list is incredibly long.

Q: What can we do about our maladaptive traits?
DL: If we want to practice preventive medicine, that means we have to eat foods that we might not prefer, and exercise when we don’t want to. The only way to do that is through some form of socially acceptable coercion. There is a reason why we require good food and exercise in school—otherwise the kids won’t get enough of it. Right now we are dropping those requirements around the world.

Q: Being able to run is one thing—how did we then go on to become endurance athletes?
DL: We evolved from very non-active creatures. A typical chimp will walk 2 to 3 kilometers a day, run about 100 meters and climb a tree or two. Your average hunter-gatherer walks or runs 9 to 15 kilometers per day, and we have all these features in our bodies, literally from our heads down to our toes, that make us really good at long-distance walking and running.

I and my colleagues at the University of Utah, Dennis Bramble and David Carrier, think the key advantage for humans was persistence hunting, whereby you run very long distances to chase animals in the heat and run them into heat stroke. We can run for very long distances, marathons in fact, at speeds at which other animals have to gallop. That’s not an endurance gait for quadrupeds, because they cool by panting—short shallow breaths. You can’t pant and gallop at the same time. If you make an animal gallop in the heat for 15 minutes or so, on a hot day, you’ll kill it.

Q: But we have adaptations for this kind of endurance running?
DL: Yes. Our bodies are loaded with all kinds of features: short toes that require less energy to stabilize and generate less shock when running; the Achilles tendon that stores and releases energy appropriately as we run; the large gluteus maximus muscles that steady the trunk; and stabilization of the head. I’m a middle-aged professor, I’m not a great specimen of an athlete, but I can easily run a marathon at a speed that would cause a dog my size to gallop.

Change Your Life in Twenty Minutes a Day

Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer, explains how you can change your life in just twenty minutes a day:

The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.

Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.

That doesn’t mean I’m suggesting people should not exercise more if they want to. You can always do more. But the science shows that if you just do anything, even stand in place 20 minutes, you will be healthier.

I haven’t read Gretchen’s book, but I am putting her philosophy to use in 2012. My advice: start at just five minutes a day and build up to twenty (or more). It might seem like an insurmountable obstacle in the beginning, which is understandable, but you’ll get there with practice…

The One Minute Exercise Regimen

The New York Times reports on the benefits of high-intensity interval training, in which short bursts of very intense activity are followed by short period of recovery:

For years, the American Heart Association and other organizations have recommended that people complete 30 minutes or more of continuous, moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, five times a week, for overall good health.

But millions of Americans don’t engage in that much moderate exercise, if they complete any at all. Asked why, a majority of respondents, in survey after survey, say, “I don’t have time.”

Intervals, however, require little time. They are, by definition, short. But whether most people can tolerate intervals, and whether, in turn, intervals provide the same health and fitness benefits as longer, more moderate endurance exercise are issues that haven’t been much investigated.

Several years ago, the McMasters scientists did test a punishing workout, known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, that involved 30 seconds of all-out effort at 100 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. After six weeks, these lacerating HIIT sessions produced similar physiological changesin the leg muscles of young men as multiple, hour-long sessions per week of steady cycling, even though the HIIT workouts involved about 90 percent less exercise time.

Recognizing, however, that few of us willingly can or will practice such straining all-out effort, the researchers also developed a gentler but still chronologically abbreviated form of HIIT. This modified routine involved one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes.

Despite the small time commitment of this modified HIIT program, after several weeks of practicing it, both the unfit volunteers and the cardiac patients showed significant improvements in their health and fitness.

The results, published in a recent review of HIIT-related research, were especially remarkable in the cardiac patients. They showed “significant improvements” in the functioning of their blood vessels and heart, said Maureen MacDonald, an associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster who is leading the ongoing experiment.

This is very interesting research and high-intensity interval training is something I’d be willing to try in the gym.

Tips for Conquering the Gym

If you’ve made it a resolution to hit the gym in 2012, how do you stay motivated and go through with your resolution? Jason Gay provides some fun, humorous tips:

1. A gym is not designed to make you feel instantly better about yourself. If a gym wanted to make you feel instantly better about yourself, it would be a bar.

2. Give yourself a goal. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds. Maybe you want to quarterback the New York Jets into the playoffs. But be warned: Losing 10 pounds is hard.

3. Develop a gym routine. Try to go at least three times a week. Do a mix of strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. After the third week, stop carrying around that satchel of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

4. No one in the history of gyms has ever lost a pound while reading The New Yorker and slowly pedaling a recumbent bicycle. No one.

5. Bring your iPod. Don’t borrow the disgusting gym headphones, or use the sad plastic radio attachment on the treadmill, which always sounds like it’s playing Kenny Loggins from a sewer.

6. Don’t fall for gimmicks. The only tried-and-true method to lose 10 pounds in 48 hours is food poisoning.

7. Yes, every gym has an overenthusiastic spinning instructor who hasn’t bought a record since “Walking on Sunshine.”

8. There’s also the Strange Guy Who is Always at the Gym. Just when you think he isn’t here today…there he is, lurking by the barbells.

9. “Great job!” is trainer-speak for “It’s not polite for me to laugh at you.”

10. Beware a hip gym with a Wilco step class.

11. Gyms have two types of members: Members who wipe down the machines after using them, and the worst people in the universe.

Jason writes: “Exercise, like dark chocolate and office meetings that suddenly get canceled, is a proven pathway to nirvana.” Read his entire 27-item list here.