Monday, December 13, 2010

Heart and cancer risks: life's a gamble

The treatment for heart-risky cholesterol levels is generally a three-legged stool: exercise, diet, and statins, a pharmaceutical. But there are risks—a risk if I kick out the stool’s statin leg, and a risk if I don’t.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Controversial food

The chaos of nutritional change, contradiction, and confusion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Doing what comes naturally is naturally the best way to walk

We don’t usually think about how to walk any more than we think about how to breath. We just do it. Even with our first baby steps as infants, we’re just “Doin’ what comes naturally,” as a song says. And doing something that is mechanically extremely complex, using most of our muscles and organs—brain, heart, lungs, eyes and more—in intricate actions that only physiologists understand.

There are exceptions. Military people must learn to march the way the military wants them to march. Infantry grunts are drilled to march 30, 40 or even 50 kilometres, packing heavy loads. Marathon runners give considerable thought to techniques that will help them cover the ground faster. And power walkers, too, must similarly learn the best techniques. Doing what comes naturally isn’t naturally the best way to walk, for the most effective exercise, health, or speed.

Which brings me to my subject. As I tramp into my 80th year, I think I’ve mastered the power walking technique as recommended by former Olympic power walker Mark Felton and others, and modified it just slightly to what seems to give me, at least, the best result.

In fact, I seem to have adopted three different modes of walking during three months of training, so far this year, as I prepare for a 42-kilometre power walking marathon on September 26, and a three-day 90-kilometre hike along for the Victoria Rail Trail from Lindsay to Halliburton October 9 to 11. As noted earlier, on the marathon I’ll be raising money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and on the hike I’ll be raising money, for Lindsay’s Ross Memorial Hospital.

Power walking I’ve dubbed the locomotive style. I’ll explain that in a minute. Power walking provides the most vigorous exercise, does the most to improve posture, probably provides the most health benefits, and is the fastest of the three walking styles. But at least for me, it seems best suited to relatively short walks. I probably won’t be able to maintain an all-out power mode for the full 42 kilometres of the marathon. I will likely alternate it with the still brisk but less energetic style I call a military march.

You don’t see soldiers punching the air with bent elbows like power walkers; soldiers swing their arms. A military march, or something remotely like it, seems best suited for long hikes, such as my planned October hike to Haliburton. It seems closest to doing what comes naturally. “You’re swinging your arms freely with just a slight bend to you elbow,” says the Mayo Clinic.[i] “A little pumping with your arms is OK.”

Gorilla-style walking is probably approved by no one, but I sometimes do it for a few minutes as I warm up when starting out, more often as I cool down at the end of a good walk, or if I’m just pooped out and need to slow down for awhile. With muscles relaxed and shoulders slouched, my arms hang straight down, dangling loosely like an ape.

I call power walking the locomotive style because of the arms. My arms don’t swing: they punch. The elbows are bent at 45 degrees, and my hands make short, fast punches, back and forth. As the hands reciprocate like some power-driven mechanical devices they drive the speed of each short step as surely as the reciprocating rods that drive the big wheels of a railway locomotive. The faster the hands and arms go, the faster the feet go. The wheels of a locomotive must turn as fast as the rods that drive them, and the legs must go as fast as the arms that seem to drive them. I find it totally impossible to do anything but keep the speed of my legs in synch with the speed of my arms. I’m sure I’d fall flat on my face if things ever did get out of synch.

Some power walking instructions suggests that the arms should be bent a bit more than 45 degrees with the pumping hands chest high. I find that wastes too much energy. It seems easier, more comfortable, and just as effective to keep the hands at belly-button level. I also have a tendency to tightly close my fists as I pump my hands back and forth—another waste of energy. I have to remind myself to keep a relaxed, open fist, thumb against index and middle fingers.

Now I’m power walking with my arms driving my legs in short, quick steps (much faster than long strides). A few more things kick it into high gear. Head up, eyes forward, not focused on the ground. Stomach and butt squeezed in. Then, with the back straight, I throw the shoulders back, and the pace seems to automatically pick up another notch.

This is the way it works for me.

None of this makes me a fast walker. After some 650-training miles I am still nowhere near fast enough to complete the 42 kilometres of the September 26 marathon in the qualifying time of 6.5 hours. At my age, I’ll likely never be one of the qualifying “fast walkers” for whom the Scotia Bank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is said to be ideal. But at least I’ll be not quite as slow as I would be without—by that time—some six months of training. And perhaps a pair of those costly featherweight walking shoes that power walkers favour will enable me to cover the ground a little faster than in the comfortable hiking boots in which I’ve been training.

At 2 pm on the Sunday afternoon of the marathon, the streets of Toronto on the route will be re-opened for vehicular traffic. Any of the anticipated 20,000 marathoners still running, power walking or limping along will have to get off the road. But unless they roll up the sidewalks, I will still complete the full 42 kilometres as quickly as I can without risking my impaired heart.

And if I can’t walk as fast as real power walkers, at least I’ll look like one.

Not that power walkers are a great sight. As my marathon-running daughter says, “Power walkers do look funny.” As I hurry along with fast tiny steps I fear I must look like an old geezer rushing in urgent need to get to the nearest bathroom.

Never mind. I’m out there doing more than just practicing power walking. I’m also practicing the Keegel. The Keegel, as mentioned in an earlier blog, is the exercise that women do after giving birth to tone up muscles and body shape. For men, the Keegel is said to be a more effective cure than Viagra for erectile dysfunction. The Keegel essentially consists of alternately contracting and relaxing the pelvic muscles. As I power walk with my stomach and butt pulled in tight, I seem to be able to also pull in my pelvic muscles by squeezing just a tiny bit harder. In fact, says the Mayo Clinic, when walking you should “Tuck your pelvis under your torso.” And from time to time I give those pelvic muscles that extra squeeze.

Thus, as I power walk, I like to think that I’m killing two birds with one stone. Which is good, as long as I’m not the old bird.

[i]  Mayo Clinic Health Solutions. “Walk Your Way to Fitness.” Rochester, Minnesota, 2007.

Search terms: Walking; power walking; hiking; exercise; health; Scotia Bank Toronto Waterfront Marathon; marathons; Lindsay, Ontario; Haliburton, Ontario; Victoria Rail Trail; Mark Fenton; Kegel exercise; Ross Memorial Hospital; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Castle meals in the age of Ivanhoe

People must have been healthy in the age of Ivanhoe. Life was not poisoned by polluted air and contaminated water, folks walked everywhere and got lots of exercise. Food must have been simple and wholesome before there were trans fats and hydrogenation, and way to much sugar, salt and starch.

But were meals in those glorious castles of 14th-century "Merrie England," in fact healthy at all?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The simple pleasures of a walk

The last stragglers among the deciduous trees in Lindsay were fully dressed in glorious leafs last week, the first week of May. In the sparkling morning sun that followed the rain, my two-hour walk was 720 minutes of simple pleasures.

Our little maple tree and the bed of yellow, purple, salmon and white tulips that encircle it offer the first eye candy from the front door. The tree is four years old and something of a mistake. Lang Court is a one-block cul-de-sac of well-manicured lawns and modest homes, none more than six years old. Four years ago the city planted trees in front of each house that wanted one. We chose a “red maple,” expecting scarlet leafs in spring. The leafs are green, but turn red in the Fall. That was one mistake. It also turns out to be a “soft maple,” sometimes called a Manitoba maple. Soft maple trees grow faster than the hard maples but don’t live as long. Ours will outlast us, however. Soft maples also do not yield maple syrup. Even I am sometimes a bigger sap.

Lang Court is separated from Angeline Street by a grass boulevard, now more yellow than green, with bright-eyed dandelions that grow everywhere in profusion since the treatment of lawns with weed killers was prohibited. Now that they are no longer poisoned by weed killers, are dandelions good to eat in salads or brew for dandelion tea as our early settlers did? Is dandelion wine healthy? Dandelions are said to be loaded with nutrition and vitamins and make a good detoxifier. Would that make dandelion wine a good hair-of-the-dog cure?

It is a half-hour walk to the Victoria Rail Trail, across two small parks and a profusion of street colours: scarlet and green maple trees, pink blossoms of big ornamental cherry trees, lavender lilac bushes, white apple blossoms. Short Roselyn Court is guarded on both sides by flanks of scarlet maples that billow outward and reach 25 or 30 feet toward the sky.

At Victoria Drive I am almost at the railway trail. It is a divided street, with a curbed grass median down the middle. Trains once rumbled down the median where the grass and dandelions now grow.

From Victoria Drive there is a brief, narrow walkway between houses to the first now-paved former railway bed, and perhaps 200 yards beyond that is Victoria Junction, the start of the Victoria Railway line before it was extended along Victoria Drive to downtown Lindsay. A new kiosk, with two illustrated information panels now commendably commemorates Victoria Junction. One side depicts the railway history of Lindsay, once an important junction for five different railroads, whose beds are now trails for walkers, bicyclists, snowmobilers and ATV riders. The other side depicts flora and fauna and the story of Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), a leading wildlife artist, naturalist and a best-selling author of his era, who grew up and began his career in Lindsay. No self-respect resident of Lindsay should miss this kiosk.

From Victoria Junction, the first two of the 90 kilometres on the Victoria Rail Trail to Haliburton are paved. The trees are not as big and showy as those on the streets of Lindsay. There are maples, cedars. birch, pine, choke cherries, a few small, neglected apple trees, probably crab apples, and more.

The trail, too, has its short section of lilac bushes. They tower tall and unkempt over the trail, and if their blooms are a little sparse they are no less splendid. Farther on, lines of maples form an archway. The new leafs are pale and delicate, filtering the sunshine to splash a golden light along the trail.

On my way back, I stop to talk briefly with a senior who has parked his motorized wheelchair beside an apple tree while he photographs close-ups of the blossoms with a single-lens reflex digital camera and a telephoto lens. “People go along the trail and they don’t see a thing,” he tells me.

Right. People like an old geezer practicing his power walking while he trains for a marathon.

“What are you doing?” a younger senior—young than I, at least—asked one day. I explained. “Are you well?” he asked, solicitously. His wife even circled her fingers around her ear in the motion denoting a loco. I certainly wouldn’t be working out this vigorously if I were not well.

On my customary one- to two-hour walks I try to walk at the quickest pace that I can comfortably sustain, with quicker bursts of about 10 minutes. I do sometimes stop for a few seconds to see the things that my friend says everyone misses. I say hello to all the walkers and riders I meet, usually without breaking stride. If I can walk and talk, I’m probably not pushing too hard.

I also say hello to the many dogs out taking their owners for walks. Many dogs ignore my greetings. A few come up, smiling and wagging their tails. I enjoy petting them. It was Joan who taught me to never approach a dog who doesn’t know you. Let the dog come up to you. If you make the approach, that might frighten the dog, and make him unfriendly. Trailer walkers seems to all have friendly dogs. I have yet to meet one that barked, growled or snarled in a threatening manner.

A young lady with a large pup on a leash joins the trail from a rough meadow. I say hello to each. The dog says, “woof,” and starts to bound down the trail. The woman is pulled off her feet, landing on her knees and hands, and breaking her hold on the leash. The dog then sits and looks at her, admiring its neat trick. She is on her feet faster that I can offer assistance. She assures me she is not hurt, and she does not look to be. We both apologize, I for perhaps having caused the dog to behave like a puppy, and she because it was not yet trained. We left on friendly terms.

My final encounter is with four young mothers out for morning runs with their babies. The babies ride in covered tricycle baby carriages, pushed along as the mothers run. As we pass, the mothers are all smiles. And why not?

All walks should offer such pleasures. They usually do.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How to make tomato juice safe and delicious

Tomato juice should be just about the healthiest drink that you can drink. It’s difficult to think of many natural liquid foods that carry a bigger load of healthy vitamins and minerals. It also has more lycopene, the cancer and cardiovascular disease-fighting antioxidant than any other food. But to get all that goodness, the tomato has to be cooked, even better yet, with a little oil.

Unfortunately, tomato juice, sauces and ketchup might not be healthy at all—quite possibly dangerous to your health. That’s because most of them contain a lot of salt, the big health risk that we have been repeatedly warned about.

Labels on different brands of canned tomato juice at a supermarket that I checked said each contained 570 mg of sodium per 250 ml—a small, eight-ounce glass of tomato juice. The labels also say that this is 23 percent of the “daily value.”

That’s misleading. “Daily value” implies that 570 mg of sodium is 23 percent of the amount your body needs for the optimum health benefits of sodium. It is not, in fact, 23 percent of what you need, but 23 percent of the maximum daily amount considered by Health Canada to be safe. It is 38 percent of all that is actually needed for adults under age 50; 44 per cent of the daily amount required by adults aged 50 to 70; and 48 percent of the needs of those over 70, Health Canada says in an online article, “Sodium: It’s Your Health.”

Health Canada states: “The amount of sodium considered adequate to promote good health in adults is 1,500 mg per day,” or 1,300 for those aged 50 to 70, and 1,200 for those past 70.

Both Canada and the United States have adopted a “Tolerable Upper Intake Level” (UL) for sodium, which Health Canada says is “The highest intake level that is likely to pose no adverse health effect.” That UL limit is 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Health Canada recommends that you do not exceed that daily limit of 2,300 mg of sodium.  Yet average Canadian sodium consumption in 2004 was 3,092 mg of sodium per day—77 percent more the stated safe limit. More than 90 percent of men over age 19 and 66 percent of women consumed more than the stated safe limit.

If drinking just one small glass of tomato juice accounts for almost one quarter, then with the sodium consumed in all our other food, it would seem difficult to stay within the recommended daily maximum. A daily glass of tomato juice highly spiked with salt does not sound like a healthy prescription.

Reducing salt would dramatically improve our health, say the health authorities. A study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology estimates that reducing salt consumption to recommended levels would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year.


It might be altogether different if you exercise strenuously in hot weather for a couple of hours or more. In that case, you probably will need extra salt, says Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a former marathon runner and a widely recognized authority on sports medicine and fitness. Reducing salt consumption might save lives “for many people who do not exercise,” Dr. Mirkin writes in his online newsletter (Salt for Warm Weather Exercise, Dr. Mirkin’s eZine.) “But for heavy exercisers and athletes, particularly those who are vegetarians, it can cause cramps, fatigue, injuries, and even death.” He concludes: “If you exercise regularly for more than a couple of hours, particularly in hot weather, you need extra salt. You also need more sugar in hot weather to increase endurance.”

That might be sound advice for heavy exercisers who are as fit as Olympic athletes. But for the rest of us, two or more hours of heavy exercise in hot weather sounds like a good prescription for a heart attack or a sudden life-stopping cardiac arrest—with or without extra salt.

For my part, I hope to avoid this problem by avoiding heavy exercise when it’s hot, as I train for the September marathon and the 90-kilometre October hike. On my walks of 5- to 10-K, four times a week, I’ll start out at 6 am, when the weatherman calls for a hot day. On my weekly longer walk, perhaps I’ll have to start at 5 am. And I’ll try to keep my salt intake within the recommended bounds—in part, by avoiding highly salted tomato juice.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to prepare great-tasting tomato juice that has only 10 mg of sodium per cup, rather than the 570 mg of sodium found in food store tomato juice.

This is a trick Joan taught me. We often eat a bowl of canned, diced, no-salt-added tomatoes. It contains only 10 mg of sodium per 250 ml. Joan spices it with a little plain white vinegar. Here’s how to make spiced tomato juice.

Empty a 797-ml (28-ounce) can of diced, no-salt-added tomatoes into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablesppons of white vinegar; 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil; ½ teaspoon oregano; ¼ teaspoon each freshly ground pepper and cumin. Process in a blender or juicer.

Adding a little oil to the tomato helps your body absorb lycopene, the powerful antioxidant that helps fight cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration. Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, and your body absorbs very much more of it when tomatoes are cooked or processed, as in canned tomatoes, and even more with a little oil.

You’ll enjoy this spicy tomato juice that has barely two percent as much salt as the supermarket stuff.
TAGS: Tomato juice. Tomato recipes. Sodium. Lycopene. Cancer. Cardiovascular disease.  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tomato: top cancer-fighting food

On September 26, 1820, according to legend, a crowd of 2,000 fascinated people gathered in Salem, New Jersey, to watch Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson commit suicide. At least that is what they expected, feared or wondered about as they watched Johnson, who stood on the steps of the town’s new courthouse. The fireman’s band played a mournful dirge. Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson was about to eat a basket of tomatoes, and everyone knew that tomatoes are poisonous.
     Nothing happened, of course, when Gibbon ate his tomatoes. At least nothing adverse to Gibbon’s health. But that is said to be the start of a long journey to recognition of tomatoes as not only safe to eat, but very possibly the world’s healthiest food. We’ll talk, in a minute, about how to get the maximum benefits of the disease-fighting power of tomatoes.
     Whether the legend of Robert Gibbon is fact or fiction, what we do know is that Gibbon organized Salem County’s first agricultural and historical society in 1826; that tomato agriculture soon became a major industry in the area; that while it was already being eaten in some regions, in others it was still widely thought to be poisonous; and that the tomato history features a long journey, from South and Central America to Europe and across the Atlantic again to North America.
     The tomato is native to South America where it was grown and consumed in prehistoric times. By 500 BC it was being grown by the Aztecs in Mexico. It may have been brought to Europe as early as 1493 by Christopher Columbus, or by Spanish explorer Hernán Cortéz in 1521, after he captured Tenochtilan, the Aztec capital that is now Mexico City. It was in Europe no later than 1544 when Italian physician and botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli called the tomato pomme d’oro, golden apple. Whoever it was that brought the first tomatoes or tomato seeds across the Atlantic must have brought yellow tomatoes. Some people though it was an aphrodisiac and called it pomme d’Amour, the love apple. Others called it the wolf apple.
     In 1597, English barber and surgeon John Gerard, in his book Gerard’s Herbal, classed tomatoes as poisonous. Gerard seems to have been at least partially responsible for a widely-held view in Britain and its North American colonies that the tomato was unfit to eat, if not actually poisonous—a view that was fairly widely held for more than two centuries.
     Spaniards and Italians were eating tomatoes anyway, possibly more than a hundred years before Gerard published his warning.  First known tomato recipes were included in a cookbook published in Florence, Italy in 1692, but in some parts of the Mediterranean tomatoes were still grown only as decorative plants.
     Spaniards brought the tomato back across the Atlantic to their Caribbean colonies, and from there they may have come to North America, where herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is now South Carolina in 1710. Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris for five years, brought tomato seeds to his Virginia home in 1789 and planted them in his kitchen garden.

     Skip a few centuries to January 21, 2002 and a feature in Time magazine, “10 Foods That Pack a Wallop,” in their disease-fighting ability and nutritional value. Top of the list were tomatoes. Others were spinach, red wine, nuts, broccoli, oats, salmon, garlic, green tea, and blueberries. “Eating tomato-based products every day should be a part of a healthy diet,” say researchers at The Prostate Centre, Princess Margaret Hospital, Canada’s leading cancer research hospital (Challenging Prostate: Nutrition, Exercise and You).
     Tomatoes are fat- and cholesterol-free and low in sodium. They are a very good source of dietary fibre, Vitamins, A, C, and K, potassium and manganese. They are also a good source of vitamins E and B6, thiamin, niacin, foliate magnesium, phosphorous and copper.
     Tomatoes are also the richest source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, which are implicated in cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration. It is declared to be especially effective in fighting prostate, lung and stomach cancers. Tomatoes also contain a variety of protective phytonutrients.
     To get the full disease-fight power of tomatoes, they must been cooked, and better yet, cooked with a little canola or olive oil.  Cooking tomatoes “releases lycopene from inside the cells,” says the Prostate Centre. And because lycopene is fat-soluble, “Your body will absorb more when it’s processed with a little oil.”
     The effect of cooking and oil in releasing lycopene is dramatic. The Prostate Centre says that from one raw, medium-sized tomato (about 123 grams) you can get 3.2 mg of lycopene; from one cup of stewed tomatoes, 10.3 mg; from one cup of tomato juice 22 mg; and from just half a cup of pasta sauce, 21.5 mg.
     Tomato juice, soups, ketchup and sauces are thus ways to get the full benefits of tomatoes. But a word of warning: many of these tomato products are also very high in sodium. We’ll look at that in my next blog.

Here’s a way to get even greater health benefits from tomatoes: serve them with broccoli, or serve them with green tea. Tomatoes, broccoli and green tea are all rich in the disease-fighting lycopene, but serving them in combination delivers a more powerful punch than eating them at separate meals, according to an extensive article in The World’s Healthiest Foods. That’s synergy.
     The tomato and broccoli combination might be particularly applicable to prostate cancer. “When tomatoes and broccoli are eaten together, we see an additive effect,” says John Erdman, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois and lead author of a study on the prostate effects on rats of tomato and broccoli diets. “We think it’s because different bioactive compounds in each food work on different anti-cancer pathways,” Erdman says.
     Care must be taken, however, in cooking broccoli. The phytonutrients in tomatoes become more concentrated when cooked, and more bioavailable when eaten with a little oil, while those in broccoli are greatly reduced with too much cooking. The World’s Healthiest Foods advises cutting broccoli florets in half or quarters and letting them stand for five minutes to allow the cancer-preventing compounds to form, then “Steam or healthy sauté broccoli no more than five minutes.”
     Another reported study suggests that the tomato and green tea combination might reduce the risk of prostate cancer as much as 86 percent.
     TAGS: Tomato history. Medicine.  Tomato juice. Lycopene. Phytonutrients. Cardiovascular disease. Cancer. Prostate cancer. Green tea. Broccoli. Antioxidants. Dietary fibre. Vitamins. Cholesterol. Sodium.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons from the old man's 48-K walk

The older I get the longer I must exercise before it has much effect. That’s how it seems to me as I train for the 42-kilometre marathon walk on September 26.

I began my training January 17, but walking in January and February was only occasional, as snow and ice conditions permitted. I try to exercise five times a week, and when I don’t walk I ride my exercise bicycle.

March weather was unseasonably warm and sunny, allowing more consistent walks, varying from 5 to 25 K. The record in my eXerlog shows that by April 10 I had walked on 38 days for a total of 222 miles or 355 K, an average of a little more than nine K per walk.

I thought it time to try a longer walk — not “just a closer walk with Thee,” as Tennessee Ernie Ford pled in his powerful hymn—but a longer walk with me and myself. The section of the Victoria Rail Trail from Lindsay to Fenelon Falls is 22 K, according to a trail map. There are at least two more Ks from our house to the trailhead. The round trip is 48 K.

There was promising blue sky and a cool 4 0 when I set out at 8 a.m. I wore short pants with a bottle of water in a pocket, long wool socks, comparatively lightweight hiking boots, a tee shirt, a light sweater, a heavy work shirt, and a baseball cap—but, no gloves. Only my hands felt a little uncomfortably cold.

The first couple of kilometres are paved, followed by another two K of fine, crushed gravel, tightly packed, as smooth as pavement. Then, for about 18 K beyond the Ken Reid Conservation Area to Fenelon Falls, the trail has looser gravel with a good supply of rocks and stones. Hiking boots, not too heavy but with good, thick soles, help avoid the feel of every stone jabbing the feet.

When I began training for the marathon, my walking speed was 5 K or three miles per hour. It took me four hours and 20 minutes to cover the 24 K to Fenelon, or 5.5 K per hour. That’s a bit of an improvement. To cover the 42 K on the September marathon in the qualifying 6.5 hours, however, I would need to average 6.5 K, and for a longer period of time. It was not walking to Fenelon, but walking back that showed how difficult it might be to do the marathon in the qualifying time.

Before heading back, I lingered a little in Fenelon, with a leisurely cup of coffee and a raisin bran muffin at a Tim Hortons, and a little loafing in the lovely park beside Cameron Lake, where a fair breeze stirred up a few whitecaps under the blue sky.

The walk home was not easy. With muscles starting to stiffen and ache, I had to push myself. I developed a sore at the heel of my left foot that felt like a blister. It took me more than five hours to struggle home, a full hour longer on the walk back than on the walk to Fenelon.

In training, I am to push myself a bit, but within my comfort zone. And I did, to the extent that there was no gasping for breathe, no pounding in the chest, no exceeding my heart-training rate, and I felt capable of carrying on a conversation at any time. I said hello to everyone I met on the trail, and to every friendly tail-wagging dog that came up to greet me.

But I pushed my muscles to the limit of my comfort zone, and possibly a bit beyond. Those who engage in competitive sports constantly push themselves beyond their comfort zone, and frequently are at least temporarily disabled as a result—like baseball players officially marooned on 15- or even 60-day disabled lists. That’s not necessary to improve or maintain health and fitness by vigorous but enjoyable walks.

The blister, painful enough, turned out to be not a blister but an embarrassment. The long walk induced a crack in the dead skin that builds up at the heels on people who don’t take care to regularly scrub it away, and the crack exposed a sliver of raw flesh. With medicated ointment, it took four days before I was able to resume walking with comfort. Time, however, heals all heels.

Here is what the Mayo Clinic, in its booklet Walk Your Way to Fitness, says about foot callus:

“…if it starts to hurt, get bigger or crack open, soak your foot in warm, soapy water. Then gently file the callus with an emery board and give it a generous dose of moisturizer. Petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, is preferable. If it doesn’t go away, your doctor can remove the callus by cutting it away.”

Improvement is still needed to do the 42-K marathon in September within my comfort zone and at least reasonably close to the 6.5-hour qualifying time. Not to worry. There are still five months of training left, and a new pair of good walking shoes, suitable for pavement pounding, to buy.

1) Be patient. Desired fitness goals can take months, or a year or more, to attain.
2) Stay within the comfort zone. Minor muscle aches and stiffness might be no problem, but pushing past the comfort zone could risk the type of more serious injuries that sometimes land athletes and those who play hard at competitive sports on the disabled lists.
3) Take care of the feet. To enjoy vigorous walking, you need to know what you’re doing, and the feet are the basis of a good under standing.

Search terms. Exercise. Fitness. Walking. Hike. Victoria Rail Trail. Sports injuries.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New challenges for an old man

Can a 79-year-old geezer who has endured a cardiac arrest, an incipient colon cancer, and a prostate operation overcome erectile dysfunction (aka ED)?

This is actually the least of three challenges I will tackle this year. More important are the other two. First up, on September 26, is my first marathon, a 42-kilometre event for runners and walkers that I will walk as fast as I can. Two weeks later, I will set out on a three-day, 90-kilometre hike along the Victoria Rail Trail from my home in Lindsay, Ontario to Haliburton. I have been training for these walks since January, but more regularly after March banished obstacles of snow and ice.

On the marathon, I will raise whatever money I can for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. When I do the 90-K hike I hope to raise money for the Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, although arrangements for that have not been completed as this is written.

My challenge last year was climbing 1,776 steps up one of the world’s tallest buildings, Toronto’s CN Tower. I was one of a few thousand participants in that annual fundraiser for the Toronto United Way. There are reasons close to my heart why this year I want to raise money for Heart and Stroke and for Ross Memorial. Those wonderful lifesavers at Ross Memorial have saved not only my life, but also Joan’s. And as a cardiac arrest survivor, I’m naturally supportive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

But back to the ED thing for a moment. ED is apparently a common consequence of prostate operations. While at my age, sex is far from urgent, it’s at least an interesting topic. It’s not as if sex ability at 79 would set any record. Seniors in Switzerland, where prostitution and brothels are legal, for instance, seem sexually active, judging from a report by syndicated medical newspaper columnist Dr. W. Gifford-Jones (Lindsay Post, March 9). In Lugano, an eager senior who had taken a drug to overcome his ED, visited a brothel, where he died of a heart attack. All 38 brothels and sex clubs in Lugano have now installed medical defibrillators to save the lives of other senior patrons. Defibrillation also saved my life following my cardiac arrest 21 years ago—not, I should add, in a brothel, but in Ross Memorial Hospital. In Denmark, a senior’s home in Copenhagen shows pornographic movies on an internal channel every Saturday night, reportedly because they have a greater calming effect than Prozac. For senior men who are more aroused than calmed, the home will arrange visits by prostitutes.

I’m not about to try prostitutes, pornography or drugs, even in the name of research, to find out how they might affect ED. An exercise called Kegal, however, might be interesting. Women commonly do the Kegel to regain muscle tone after giving birth. A British web site, netdoctor, claims that it is also “Highly effective in helping men who have problems developing and sustaining an erection.” British doctor Grace Dorey says that the Kegel exercise is as effective as Viagra, cheaper, and healthier. There are other similar reports, but also one that claims it doesn’t work. We’ll see.

More important to me is the Scotia Toronto Waterfront Marathon on September 26. The course is flat, and the web site says, “Even power walkers and slow runners love this course because of its 6-hour and 30-minute time line.” The 6.5 hours seem a bigger challenge than the 42 kilometres.

A few decades ago I don’t think that would have been a tremendous challenge. When we lived in Calgary, we were ardent hikers along the 2,000 miles of trails in the four adjacent Rocky Mountain national parks a relatively short distance west. In recent years, the longest walk I’ve made was last October, 30 kilometres along a section of the Victoria Rail Trail that stretches from Lindsay to Halliburton.

I know this. I’m not a fast walker. Before I began my training in January, young folk passed me by as though I was standing still. There is still no way that today I could walk 42 K in 6-1/2 hours. But I have five more months of training left. And if I can’t do it in 6.5 hours, then unless they roll up the sidewalks, I’ll do it in whatever time it takes.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you a bit about my progress in training for power walking and long hikes, and a little about how big my two walking challenges loom.

Search terms: walking, hiking, marathon, fitness, health, exercise, heart disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, Kegel exercise, Victoria Rail Trail.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will soy food make you sick for life?

Advocates of soybean foods say they are the healthiest food you can put on the table. Critics say they can make you sick, impose a risk of cancer, and might make men infertile.

Ever since 1999 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved food labels that claim soy products can help protect the heart, sales of the wonder bean’s food products have been booming. The accolades have been as fulsome and plentiful as a bushel of beans. But songs of praise have not been without a mounting chorus of Doubting Thomases—and some well-qualified Doubting Thomases.
     In addition to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, soy advocates also suggest other health benefits: reduced blood pressure; reduced risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer; help in managing diabetes (http://soybeanorg/health.html); promoting healthy bones, and alleviating menopausal symptoms. Gloria Tsang, “Powerful Benefits of Soy” in the web site of the Registered Dietitians of Canada.
     Some soy food benefits are not disputed. There is reported agreement that soy foods can provide the protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre found in meat, eggs and diary products, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol from animal food. And too much cholesterol (especially the bad LDL) and too much saturated fat can lead to heart disease and other health problems.

It’s hard to imagine stronger accolades than soy foods have garnered during the past couple of decades for their healthy effects. A few of the many:
     “Soy foods are the best food you can put on the table. Soy foods lower LDL [low density lipoprotein] cholesterol about 5% to 6%, and raise HDL 2% to 3%. These are all meaningful changes reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in the range of about 25%.” James Anderson, Virginia Medical Centre and University of Kentucky. Findings of a study headed by Anderson were a key factor in the FDA’s approval of a heart-healthy claim. The Medical News, April 11, 2007
     “Ounce for ounce, calorie for calorie, the soybean gets top-billing as a rich source of protein, unsaturated fats, fibre, B vitamins, folic acid, potassium, calcium, zinc and iron—and it’s cholesterol free. There is no other food that supplies so much nutrition in such a tiny package.” William Sears, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatric, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine
     “After lowering your fat intake, the second most important step in a prostate-friendly diet is adding soy.” Trachtenberg, John, et al. “Challenging Prostate Cancer: Nutrition, Exercise and You,” page 14. Prostate Centre, Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto
Probably nothing did as much to boost soy food sales as the FDA’s approval of heart-benefit claims.
     An initial step in winning that approval was a 1993 study, which found that “50 grams per day of isolated soy protein is effective in lowering total cholesterol, LDL, and apolipoprotein B while maintaining HDL in mildly hypercholestrolemic men.” Potter, S.M., et al. “Depression of plasma cholesterol in men by consumption of baked products containing soy protein. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 501-566.
     More explicit was a 1995 study, which concluded: “The consumption of soy protein rather than animal protein significantly decreased serum concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Daily consumption of 47 grams of soy protein reduced total cholesterol 9.3%; LDL 12.9%; and triglycerides 10.5%.” Anderson, James W., et al. Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Soy Protein Intake on  Serum Lipids. New England Journal of Medicine, August 3, 1995.
     Four years later, after extensive tests, the FDA gave soy food producers approval to include this claim on their product labels: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Even before it was issued, the claim was disputed—by two of FDA’s own researchers. In an internal letter dated February 18, 1999, researchers Daniel M. Sheen and Daniel R. Doerge wrote that they “oppose this health claim because there is abundant evidence that some of the isoflavones found in soy” pose potential health risks, including breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, thyroid abnormalities, and disruption of the endocrine system, the glands that secrete a hormone to regulate the body.
     The claim of soy food producers that Chinese have safely eaten soy for 5,000 years is misleading, according to Seth Barrows, a chemical engineer and biochemist and founder of an alternative health firm, The Healing Crow. “The Chinese did not eat unfermented soybeans because the soybeans contain large quantities of natural toxins,” Barrow writes. The soy in soymilk and tofu is unfermented, although in such products as simulated meat it is fermented. The toxins in soybeans, says Barrows, “Can produce serious gastric distress, reduced protein digest and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake,” as well as cancer of the pancreas in test animals. Acid washing and other treatment do not completely remove the toxins in unfermented soy products, according to Barrows. Also, “Vegetarians who consume tofu and curd as a substitute for meat and dairy products risk severe mineral deficiencies.” Barrow, Seth. “Soy: For Your Health or Their Wealth?” 2001.
     A powerful blow to the claimed cardiovascular benefits of soy came in 2006 from the American Heart Association, which reversed its earlier support. “Earlier research indicating that soy protein has clinically important favourable effects compared with other proteins has not been confirmed,” AHA researchers wrote in the association’s journal Circulation. “In the majority of 22 randomized trials, isolated protein with isoflavones, as compared with milk or other proteins,” the reported reduction in LDL from consuming an average 50 grams of soy protein—“about half the total daily protein intake”—was only 3%. “No significant effects on HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), or blood pressure were evident.”
     Other suggested benefits were also questioned, including reduced menopause symptoms and postmenopausal bone loss. “The efficacy and safety of soy’s isoflavones for preventing or treating cancer of the breast, endometrium [inner membrane of the uterus], and prostate are not established; evidence from clinical trials is meager and cautionary with regard to possible adverse effect.”
     But the AMA did find some good health effects from soy food, aside from the claims for the controversial isoflavone antioxidants: “Many soy products should be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat.” Sacks, Frank M., et al “Soy Protein, Isoflavones, and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation. 2006; 113:1034-1044. Abstract. © American Heart Association.
     In December 2007, the FDA announced its intention to re-evaluate two previously authorized health claims—dietary fat and cancer; and soy protein and risk of coronary heart disease. Comments were invited. The AHA was quick to respond. The AHA “strongly recommends that the FDA revoke” the cardiovascular claim, AHA president Daniel W. James wrote in a letter dated February 19, 2008. This, despite the fact that, as noted in the Circulation article, soy food can be helpful in replacing animal protein containing saturated fat and cholesterol.

As the FDA re-evaluates, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and others raises the possibility of another risk from a high intake of soy foods: male infertility. The study suggests that one cup of soy milk or a soy burger or a serving of tofu every day could reduce the sperm content in male semen to a level of between two-thirds and one-half of normal.
The study, reported in the journal Human Reproduction by lead author Dr. Jorge Chavarro, analyzed the soy consumption of 15 soy foods consumed by 99 men who went to a fertility clinic between 2000 and 2006, looking at the relationship between semen quality and isoflavones. Those who consumed the most soy food had a semen concentration that was 41 million sperm per millimetre less than those who ate no soy food. Normal concentration ranges from 80 million to 120 million per millimetre.
     The study was prompted by findings from earlier studies that noted a relation between high isoflavone intake and decreased fertility in animals. While the study suggested “that higher intake of soy foods and soy isoflavones is associated with lower sperm concentration,” Dr. Chavarro says that much larger studies will be needed to determine whether this poses a risk of human infertility. Reuters news agency, July 23, 2008. Chavarro, Jorge E. “Soy food and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic.” Abstract. Human Reproduction, vol. 23, no. 11, pp 2548-2590. Oxford University Press, on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

For what it’s worth, here’s my unprofessional take on what these reports appear to suggest.
     Any possible benefits to your blood cholesterol would seem to require substantial daily consumption of soy food. The alleged risks might also require substantial daily consumption. Aside from possible affects on cholesterol—good, bad or nil—there are still good things said about soy food, in moderation.
     “One aspect of soy that is not in dispute is that it is a good source of dietary protein,” Camilla Alexander writes in Food Engineering & Ingredients (Vo. 33 No. 2, pp. 13+). And, as already noted, the American Heart Association continues to see soy foods as healthy “because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat.” Says Christine Lewis of the FDA’s Office of Nutrition Products Labelling and Dietary Supplements: “Soy by itself is not a magic food, but rather an example of the different kinds of food that together in a complete diet can have a positive effect on health.”
My research for this article has at least resulted in one decision in our house. We had been thinking about switching from dairy skim milk to soy milk and adding tofu to our diet. We’ve scrapped that idea. But we will continue to eat tempeh, the formented mixture of soybeans and grain used as a meat substitute. We won’t be eating it daily; if nothing else, that would be too boring. But we will continue eating it frequently. It’s even higher in protein that the original soy bean, with no saturated fat or cholesterol but lots of fibre, calcium, iron, zinc, B-12 and foliate.
     Our favourite tempeh dish is sheperd’s pie. In addition to tempeh in the form of simulated ground round beef, my very easy-to-make shepherd’s pie recipe also includes a rainbow of vegetables and cooked, no-added-salt tomatoes with a little oil, possibly the world’s healthiest food.
     TAGS: Soy food. Food and Drug Administration. Protein. Unsaturated fats. Cholesterol. Nutrition. Breast cancer. Alzheimer's disease. Food health risks. Cardiovascular disease. Vitamins. Minerals. Fibre.