Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Reviews

These two books are targeted to my demographic (aging fitness buff) but are filled with advice that should interest athletes of any age who are trying to stay in the game as long as possible. Roy Wallack authored Run for Life and co-authored Bike for Life with Bill Katovsky. Both books share the core premise that there are things that one can do to extend (or shorten) the number of years available for reasonably competent running and biking though much of the advice has general fitness application. What attracted me to the books is that the authors are not only credentialed athletes, but that they did lots of homework. The medical/technical information is cutting edge. Recent research shows that we can generate the stuff of youth (growth hormone, for example) with specific kinds of training. I also liked the profiles and interviews of folks who are showing what can be accomplished. Lots of inspiration there. Both books emphasize the necessity of strength training, the restorative and corrective benefits of yoga (Steve Ilg appears in text and demo photos–the authors couldn't have done better than tapping one of the seminal teachers of the wholistic approach to fitness), and the balance achieved by cross-training.

I was pleased to see that the authors are onto the revelation that less exercise (if intense) can be more so long as the less is in the form of power intervals: brief bursts of maximal effort embedded in a relatively short workout. These can be 30 second sprint bursts followed by 2 minutes of slow recovery on moving or stationary bike or running. Intense weight lifting has the same effect and that effect is the release of HGH; that's right, human growth hormone. Long, slow distance running and cycling don't have that effect. Hitting the pavement for a few miles a day is not enough for most of us to preserve muscle mass. And prolonged aerobic exercise produces oxidative stress or as Running for Life interviewee and former champion triathlete and "runaholic" Mark Sisson puts it, "continuous systemic inflammation that was severely suppressing my immune system . . leaving me soaking in my own internal cortisol (stress hormone) both . . . [and causing] increased oxidative damage that was tearing apart my muscle and joint tissue" (129). I am a bit biased in favoring advice from Mark as he is an advocate of the evolutionary fitness approach that looks to pre-agricultural human adaptations to formulate what we should be eating and how we should be exercising (that's a big subject for another post but check out Mark's blog which is linked to the right as Mark's Daily Apple).

I appreciate the pragmatic approach of the authors. They have surveyed the field to see what has and is working for athletes who defy the aging curve, and they are not shy about exploding myths and confronting the fact that the endorphin high that addicts so many to long and repetitious workouts and high carb diets has a steep downside. Without the muscle mass preservation of resistance training, the postural, range of motion, and meditative benefits of yoga, and the hormonal drive enhancement of interval training, the very long slow stuff will grind one down. Get either or both of these books to find out how to remain fit in a balanced, tech-savvy way. Roy and Bill have done a ton of reading and research for you.

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