Do elite ‘power sport’ athletes have a genetic advantage?

Do elite 'power sport' athletes have a genetic advantage?

A specific gene variant is more frequent among elite athletes in power sports, reports a study in the October issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

A “functional polymorphism” of the angiotensiogen (AGT) gene is two to three times more common in elite power athletes, compared to nonathletes or even elite endurance athletes, according to the new research by Paweł Cięszczyk, PhD, of University of Szczecin, Poland, and colleagues. They write, “[T]he M23T variant in the AGT may be one of the genetic markers to investigate when an assessment of predisposition to power sports is made.”

Gene Variant More Common in Elite Power Athletes

The researchers analyzed DNA samples from two groups of elite Polish athletes: 100 power-oriented athletes, from sports such as power-lifting, short-distance runners, and jumpers; and 123 endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners and swimmers and rowers. All athletes competed at the international level — eg, World and European Championships, World Cups, or Olympic Games. A group of 344 nonathletes were studied for comparison.

The analysis focused on the genotype of the M235T polymorphism of the gene AGT. “Polymorphisms” are genes that can appear in two different forms (alleles). A previous study found that the “C” allele of the AGT gene (as opposed to the “T” allele) was more frequent among elite athletes in power sports.

The genetic tests found that elite power athletes were more likely to have two copies of the C allele — in other words, they inherited the C allele from both parents. This “CC” genotype was found 40 percent of the power athletes, compared to 13 percent of endurance athletes and 18 percent of nonathletes.

Power athletes were three times more likely to have the CC genotype compared to endurance athletes, and twice as likely compared to nonathletes. At least one copy of the C allele was present in 55.5 percent of power athletes, compared to about 40 percent of endurance athletes and nonathletes.

But Functional Significance Not Yet Clear

In a further analysis, the researchers found no differences in genotype between “top-elite” athletes who had won medals in international-level competition, compared to elite-level athletes who were not medalists.

The new study is the first to replicate previous, independent research showing an increased rate of the CC genotype of the AGT gene among power athletes on Spanish national teams. That study also found about a 40 percent prevalence of the CC genotype among elite power athletes.

The AGT gene is part of the renin-angiotensin system, which plays essential roles in regulating blood pressure, body salt, and fluid balance. There are several possible ways in which the CC genotype might predispose to improved power and strength capacity — including increased production of angiotensin II, which is crucial for muscle performance. However, the researchers emphasize that the “functional consequences” of the M235T polymorphism remain to be determined.

The study contributes to the rapidly evolving body of research on genetic factors related to exercise, fitness, and performance — which may one day have implications for identification and training of potential elite-level athletes. Dr Cięszczyk and coauthors conclude, “Identifying genetic characteristics related to athletic excellence or individual predisposition to types of sports with different demands (power or endurance oriented) or even sport specialty may be decisive in recognizing athletic talent and probably will allow for greater specificity in steering of sports training programs.”

This article was originally published in NIH. Read the original article.

Coffee Drinkers Are More Likely To Live Longer. Decaf May Do The Trick, Too

Coffee Drinkers Are More Likely To Live Longer. Decaf May Do The Trick, Too

Coffee is far from a vice.

There’s now lots of evidence pointing to its health benefits, including a possible longevity boost for those of us with a daily coffee habit.

The latest findings come from a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine that included about a half-million people in England, Scotland and Wales. Participants ranged in age from 38 to 73.

“We found that people who drank two to three cups per day had about a 12 percent lower risk of death compared to non-coffee drinkers” during the decade-long study, says Erikka Loftfield, a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute.

This was true among all coffee drinkers — even those who were determined to be slow metabolizers of caffeine. (These are people who tend to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.) And the association held up among drinkers of decaffeinated coffee, too.

Drink To Your Health: Study Links Daily Coffee Habit To Longevity
Drink To Your Health: Study Links Daily Coffee Habit To Longevity
In the U.S., there are similar findings linking higher consumption of coffee to a lower risk of early death in African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Latinos and white adults, both men and women. A daily coffee habit is also linked to a decreased risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

What is it about coffee that may be protective? It’s not likely to be the caffeine. While studies don’t prove that coffee extends life, several studies have suggested a longevity boost among drinkers of decaf as well as regular coffee.

So, researchers have turned their attention to the bean.

How Many Cups Of Coffee Per Day Are Too Many?
How Many Cups Of Coffee Per Day Are Too Many?
“The coffee bean itself is loaded with many different nutrients and phyto-chemicals,” nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health told us in 2015. These compounds include lignans, quinides and magnesium, some of which may help reduce insulin resistance and inflammation. “My guess is that they’re working together to have some of these benefits,” Willett said. (He’s the author of a study that points to a 15 percent lower risk of early death among men and women who drink coffee, compared with those who do not consume it.)

“Coffee, with its thousand chemicals, includes a number of polyphenol-like, antioxidant-rich compounds,” says Christopher Gardner, who directs nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He says there’s so much evidence supporting the idea that coffee can be a healthy part of your diet, it’s now included in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. In 2015, the experts behind the guidelines concluded that a daily coffee habit may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Gardner says part of the benefit of coffee may be linked to something profoundly simple: It brings people joy.

“Think about when you’re drinking coffee — aren’t you stopping and relaxing a little bit?” Gardner asks.

He says it’s such a simple pleasure. “I just love holding that hot beverage in my hand. It’s the morning ritual,” he says. He drinks at least three cups a day.

So, how did coffee achieve such an image makeover? It wasn’t too long ago that coffee was considered a vice.

Gardner says the bad rap goes back to a time when people who drank coffee were also very likely to smoke cigarettes.

So, when earlier epidemiological studies suggested that coffee consumption was associated with health risks, researchers were thrown off. It wasn’t until they separated these two habit apart that a completely different picture emerged.

“Smoking was the cause of the association,” Gardner says. “Ever since they disentangled smoking, coffee wasn’t just null, it was [shown to be] beneficial.”

This article was originally published in NPR. Read the original article.

Dog Walking Is Good for You. Provided You Do It.

Dog Walking Is Good for You. Provided You Do It.

Walking a dog can be fine exercise. But many people do not have access to a dog, and many of those who do choose not to walk them.

Two small new studies, however, may offer novel ways to promote dog walking and its myriad benefits, even to people without dogs. But the results also indicate that there can be substantial barriers to using a pet to improve your health.
Anyone who owns a dog, which includes me, knows that most of them yearn to go on walks, whatever the time or weather. If I skip our usual morning jog, my dogs flop onto the floor, disconsolate and reproachful.

The walk would be good for all of us. According to recent studies, adults who often walk a dog are more likely than those who do not to meet the standard exercise recommendation of about 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. Well-exercised dogs also tend to be leaner and better behaved than sedentary canines.

But nearly 40 percent of dog owners almost never walk their dogs, other studies show.

Concerned by that statistic, Katie Becofsky, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and dog owner, began to wonder recently whether it might be possible and worthwhile to essentially trick people into walking their dogs more often.

So for one of the new studies, which was presented in June at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Minneapolis, she and her colleagues invited a group of about 30 local dog owners who reported rarely walking their dogs to join a special dog obedience class.

The owners were told that the program was designed to improve their dogs’ behavior while leashed, but the surreptitious goal was to see if the classes could also increase the owners’ dog walking and physical activity after the instruction had ended.

To that end, half of the group began six weeks of instruction while others were wait-listed as a control group. The participants attended classes with their dogs several times a week, kept a log about extracurricular dog walks and wore an activity monitor, ostensibly to record those walks. The researchers asked them to continue to record any walks and wear the activity monitor occasionally for an additional six weeks after the classes ended.

The logs and monitors showed that people in the class did start to walk their dogs for a few minutes more each week than the control group, both during and after the six weeks of classes. Surprisingly, though, those minutes did not increase the owners’ overall weekly exercise totals.

A Family in Transition
Dr. Becofsky might have been disappointed with the results, she says, but suspects that one factor was that the program collided with a particularly intractable East Coast obstacle: the weather. The study took place during a prolonged period of rain and cold in the area, she says, so the increase in participants’ dog-walking time, while small, was notable.

More important, she says, most of the class participants reported feeling closer to their dogs and happier with their behavior afterward.

“We know from other research that the best predictor of dog walking is feeling a strong bond with your dog,” she says.

She plans to conduct a larger study, she says, again featuring obedience classes but this time being open about the program’s intent to increase owners’ physical activity. She’s also planning separately to study dogs’ self-chosen movement patterns, on a leash and off, using activity monitors made for dogs.

“Dog walking has so much potential to inspire more physical activity,” she says.
That possibility extends even to people who do not own dogs, according to the other new study, which looked at dogs and pedestrianism. Also presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting, it involved college students, a group notorious for their inactivity. Many collegians exercise seldom, if ever, studies show, often blaming time constraints and academic demands.

To bypass those barriers, researchers at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., created a for-credit physical education class centered on dog walking. Students who enrolled in the class visited the local animal shelter twice a week for 50 minutes and walked one of the shelter dogs in a nearby park while wearing a pedometer.

The gadgets’ data showed that the students were averaging around 4,500 steps, or about two and a quarter miles of walking, during each session with a dog.

“Most of them were surprised that they were walking so much,” says Melanie Sartore-Baldwin, a professor at E.C.U. who led the study.

“They said that the time had gone quickly and they hadn’t really felt as if they were exercising,” she says.

Many also reported side benefits. “They told us that the dogs had seemed so happy about the walks, which had made them feel better about themselves and the whole experience,” Dr. Sartore-Baldwin says.

There were complaints, of course, she adds. The class began at 9 a.m., which the students considered punishingly early, and were required to continue whatever the weather.

But few students skipped any sessions, and the class currently has an enrollment waiting list, she says. She also is working with other universities that are looking to incorporate dog walking into their P.E. programs.

“There’s something very appealing about spending time with a dog who is so delighted to see you,” she says, “and getting in an easy 4,500 steps before 10 a.m.”

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

Exfoliation Tips for the Best Skin Ever

Exfoliation Tips for the Best Skin Ever

Done correctly, exfoliation helps your skin purge dead cells, revealing a better complexion underneath. That magic draws us to the practice but also makes us overzealous. At home, aggressive exfoliation can cause skin damage, irritation and breakouts.

So what kinds of products do the job best? We turned to dermatologists and an aesthetician for answers.

Your cells shed on their own, but they do need help.
Exfoliation happens primarily in the outer layer of your skin, the stratum corneum. The dead skin cells there should shed in a process called desquamation, but it is slowed by a number of factors: hormone fluctuations, sun exposure, vitamin deficiencies and aging. That leaves most of us in need of some intervention. Exfoliation, either mechanical or chemical, accelerates the shedding process, and when done right, reveals healthy skin cells.

Don’t exfoliate severely inflamed skin.
Some skin conditions are worsened by exfoliation. Arash Akhavan, the founder of the Dermatology & Laser Group in New York, tells patients who have inflamed cases of acne or rosacea to skip exfoliation. “Exfoliation inherently causes some level of trauma to the skin, leading to a small amount of inflammation,” Dr. Akhavan said. That irritation would overwhelm skin that is already inflamed from acne or rosacea.

Chemical peels are best, usually.
There are two main types of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical. Chemical exfoliations use fruit enzymes or acids like glycolic acid, derived from sugar, and lactic acid, which is made from milk. Mechanical exfoliations use beads, brushes and razors (dermaplaning) to lift dead cells off the skin.

“A scrub or tool like a brush involves your own manual pressure, and people tend to be very aggressive with them,” said Sejal Shah, the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York. “Scrubs made from fruit pits and nut shells create small tears in the skin.” Those small injuries are not the same as the tiny wounds created during a microneedling procedure.

“With a cosmetic procedure, the injury is controlled and typically microscopic,” Dr. Shah said. Not so with tears caused by harsh exfoliation. “I think most dermatologists tend to like chemical exfoliants because they are overall more effective while being gentler on the skin,” she said. Chemical exfoliants gently break the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, so they can be easily rinsed away.

But for skin with a history of irritation or allergy from cleansers and lotions, mechanical is the way to go. “With a brush, there are no ingredients for the skin to react to,” Dr. Akhavan said.

Most Clarisonic-style brush users press too hard. The bristles should lightly graze the skin to get the benefit of their back-and-forth, pore-cleaning motion, said Jeannel Astarita, an aesthetician and the owner of Just Ageless, a noninvasive skin care and body contouring studio in New York. “I tell everyone, ‘Do not bend the bristles.’”

If you’re new to exfoliation, start with enzymes.
Ms. Astarita prefers fruit enzymes like the papaya in DefenAge 2-Minute Reveal Masque ($74) because they’re gentler and better tolerated than acids. For scrub loyalists, a product like Juara Radiance Enzyme Scrub ($38) combines apple enzymes and a fine, smooth polish. Know that the enzymes do most of the exfoliating work — no rubbing allowed.

For a stronger peel, graduate to acids.
Alpha hydroxy acids — typically glycolic, lactic and citric — are stronger exfoliants than enzymes. Try them after a few weeks of enzyme exfoliation with no irritation. “Lactic acid is great for oily, sensitive skin and has good outcomes treating oiliness in African-American skin,” said the dermatologist Macrene Alexiades. Her practice, in New York, focuses on noninvasive treatments for natural anti-aging results.

“Citric acid is a relatively weak alpha hydroxy acid,” Dr. Alexiades said. “It does not peel the skin unless used at higher concentrations or long exposure times.”

Glycolic acid, though, is the star AHA. It’s the smallest molecule of the acids, so it penetrates deepest to treat fine lines, dullness and superficial hyperpigmentation, and it is a humectant. Think of it as a skin care generalist, an assist for achieving the most beloved of skin goals: glow. AHAs that are stand-alone exfoliators are most effective. Exfoliating cleansers, for example, aren’t on the skin long enough to work.

But how strong is your peel?
While you’re shopping, keep in mind that peel products are only as effective as their ingredient concentration and pH allow them to be. A measure called free acid value indicates the real amount of acid your skin will be able to use but is almost never disclosed. There are some exceptions.

The Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel ($64) is a straightforward glycolic exfoliator that lists its free acid value of 10.8 right on the bottle. That’s in the moderate strength range, so you’ll see better texture and more even tone over time (but could also see slight irritation).

The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial ($80) combines all the AHAs at a peel-friendly acidic 3.5 pH. It also features salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid. “BHAs are oil soluble, which allows them to work deeper, inside the pores,” Dr. Shah said. “It’s a good treatment for acne-prone skin.”

When paired with AHAs in relatively small amounts, as in this product, salicylic acid makes delivery of all the active ingredients more efficient.

For most products, unfortunately, you’ll have to judge strength by feel. “If you put it on and it itches, it’s relatively mild,” Dr. Alexiades said. “If it stings or burns, it’s stronger.”

It’s tempting, but don’t overdo it.
Overly exfoliated skin atrophies, according to Dr. Alexiades. “That skin looks like parchment paper,” she said. “You feel like you could pop it with a pin.” If you’re using strong at-home acid peels, once a week is likely enough.

Since AHAs can increase sun sensitivity, do not exfoliate right before exposure to lots of sun, like a beach vacation. But you should still exfoliate during the summer months (sun exposure decreases cell turnover). Just be vigilant about sunscreen, reapplying frequently.

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

Walk Briskly for Your Health. About 100 Steps a Minute.

Most of us know that we should walk briskly for the sake of our health. But how fast is brisk?

A helpful new study of walking speed and health concludes that the answer seems to be about 100 steps per minute, a number that is probably lower than many of us might expect.
Current exercise guidelines almost always state that we should walk at a brisk pace rather than stroll leisurely. But the recommendations do not always define what brisk walking means and, when they do, can deploy daunting terminology or technicalities.

They may say, for instance, that brisk walking requires three metabolic equivalents of task, or METs, meaning that it uses about three times as much energy as sitting still.

Or they might tell us that brisk walking occurs at a pace that increases our heart rate until it reaches up to 70 percent of our heart rate maximum, a measurement that few of us fully understand or have the heart rate monitor and mathematical acuity needed to track and parse those percentages.

Even the simplest, often-cited description of brisk walking can be vague and confusing. Used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies in their guidelines, it defines brisk walking (and other moderate-intensity activities) as occurring at a pace at which people can talk but not sing.

That definition seemed impractical to Catrine Tudor-Locke, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who has long studied how much exercise might be needed or sufficient for health.
“Who wants to sing when they walk?” she asks.

So, for the new study, which was published in June in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine devoted to the topic of walking, she and her colleagues decided to see whether there was enough data already available to develop a more precise and useful definition of brisk walking.

They began by looking for recent, good-quality published studies that had tracked people’s walking pace and cadence, which is the number of steps they take per minute, as well as other measures of their effort, such as heart rate or increases in respiration.

They wanted to see if there were consistencies between an easy-to-use number, such as steps per minute, and more technical determinations of intensity, such as respiration.

They wound up with 38 studies that had included hundreds of men and women ranging in age from 18 to elderly and of many different B.M.I.s.

But despite the differences in the participants, the data about what made their walking brisk, or “moderate,” was consistent across all of the studies, Dr. Tudor-Locke and her colleagues found.

Brisk walking involved a pace of about 2.7 miles per hour. Or put more simply, it required about 100 steps per minute.

“This is a number that is very easy for any of us to measure on our own,” she says. “You do not need special equipment or expertise.”

Just count how many steps you take in 10 seconds and multiply that number by six, she says. Or count how many steps you take in six seconds and multiply by 10. Or count how many steps you take in a single minute and skip the multiplication altogether.

“The good news is that this pace will probably not feel strenuous to most healthy people,” she says.

There were some small variations among people in the precise number of steps per minute needed to achieve brisk walking in the various studies, Dr. Tudor-Locke says.

“For some people, it was 98; for others, 102,” she says. “But 100 steps per minute is a good rule of thumb for almost everyone.”

Unless you are past about age 60, she adds. The ideal steps per minute for brisk walking among older people were inconsistent in the studies that she and her colleagues reviewed.

“Some older people needed to take quite a few more than 100 steps per minute” to walk briskly, she says, while others achieved briskness with lower step cadences.

Dr. Tudor-Locke suspects that differing methodologies in the studies produced the differing results.

She and her colleagues plan soon to study older people and walking to pinpoint just how many steps per minute are needed for their pace to be brisk.

Dr. Tudor-Locke also says that knowing that 100 steps per minute makes our walking brisk does not mean that we should stop walking after taking 100 steps.

Volume remains important, she says.

The current federal exercise guidelines suggest 30 minutes of brisk walking most days, which would translate into 3,000 steps taken at the 100-steps-per-minute pace.

If you are ambitious, you also could ramp up the pace so that your walking becomes vigorous, she says, which is the technical term for more-draining exercise.
Vigorous walking requires about 130 steps per minute, she and her colleagues determined, a pace at which you still are walking. Jogging generally starts at about 140 steps per minute, she says.

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.