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Cancer, Health and Fitness, Stanford News

The ride of his life: Local cyclist races across the country to benefit Stanford Cancer Institute

John Tarlton big

Menlo Park businessman John Tarlton is on the ride of his life, attempting to bike 3,000 miles across the country in 12 days. He’s competing in the Race Across America (RAAM), one of the world’s most extreme endurance events. RAAM originated in 1982 as four cyclists raced from the Santa Monica Pier to the Empire State Building.

“I have dreamed of competing in RAAM since childhood,” Tarlton told me by e-mail prior to the race. As of this post, he is more than halfway through, having biked more than 1,800 miles in about six and a half days.

Tarlton, 45, a lifetime cycling enthusiast, has been preparing for RAAM for several years. The RAAM course is nearly 50 percent longer than the Tour de France, though completed in about half the time. And unlike the Tour de France riders, who rest and refuel at their hotels each night, most RAAM riders can’t afford to sleep more than four hours a day, since every minute counts against the 12-day time limit. Eating presents an interesting challenge: Tarlton, a lean vegetarian, estimates he’ll need to consume 16,000 calories per day (and no, that’s not a typo!) during the race.

Like many RAAM riders and teams, Tarlton is using interest generated by this event to raise awareness and dollars for a cause – in this case, cancer, which has affected both his and his supports team’s families. Donations made in honor of Tarlton’s effort will support the Stanford Cancer Institute.

Since I mostly ride an indoor stationary bike with a TV screen affixed, I had a few questions for this ultra-driven athlete. Below are Tarlton’s answers provided by e-mail and lightly edited:

Describe your typical training day.

There really is no “typical” training day for me. Some days I only ride the bike for one hour, spend another hour weight training and then two hours doing recovery activities. Other days I will be on the bike for 14 hours straight.

What is the biggest challenge during the race?

It is hard to predict. Some years, there have been lightening storms that require riders to hide inside cars, while other years there are strong headwinds for extended periods of time. Our biggest challenge will be to adapt to whatever nature throws at us, in addition to any unexpected equipment failures, while sticking to our plan.

Besides finishing, what’s your goal for the race?

We hope to raise quite a bit of money for Stanford Cancer Institute. In all honesty, the goal of completing the race within the allotted 12 days is such an overarching goal, that any other athletic goals would pale in comparison.

Why did you choose to benefit the Stanford Cancer Institute (SCI)?

SCI is at the forefront of the cancer treatment effort, from cutting-edge primary research to new ways of focusing on the patient during recovery. My professional life revolves around buildings for life science research and commercialization. The partnership between Tarlton Properties and SCI seems a natural fit.

My family has been deeply affected by cancer and has strong ties to Stanford. My parents met in the Stanford Choir in 1954, and my father is a past president of Stanford Associates. My wife, Jenny Dearborn, graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education program; her father attended Stanford and her grandfather was a professor there.

Finally, Stanford doctors were central to the care of my mother and sister, as well as my crew chief’s wife, during their battles with cancer.

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Complementary Medicine, Health and Fitness, In the News, Sports

How do you get through the NBA Finals? Practice, practice, practice (yoga)

How do you get through the NBA Finals? Practice, practice, practice (yoga)

LeBron JamesA student in a yoga class I attended in Berkeley, Calif. last Saturday asked the teacher about the origin of the Sanskrit chant we had just repeated. He explained that the words were the lyrics from the theme song to Battlestar Galactica. Inviting pop-culture references into the sometimes-serious space of the studio is a terrific way to normalize the complementary medicine practice. So is welcoming 6’8″, 250-pound athletes to an activity often stereotyped as being for the petite, female and flexible.

That is to say that LeBron James takes yoga. In case you somehow missed it, the Miami Heat star got sidelined by cramps near the end of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. A piece on Sports Illustrated‘s Point Forward describes how yoga played a role in James’ recovery and preparation for the next game of the series:

[Readying his body for Game 2] included, among a more extensive hydration regimen, James’ decision to attend a Sunday morning yoga class at the Heat’s team hotel in San Antonio.

“Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind and it’s a technique that has really helped me,” James told Brian Windhorst (then of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer) in 2009. “You do have to focus because there’s some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren’t focused and breathing right.”

Upon his arrival in Miami, James also credited yoga for his supernatural level of endurance. Only Kevin Durant has logged more total minutes since James joined the Heat in 2011.

The piece notes that James’ teammate Dwayne Wade and the Heat’s playoffs opponents, the San Antonio Spurs, are among the other NBA affiliates who stand in Mountain Pose.

Previously: Third down and ommm: How an NFL team uses yoga and other tools to enhance players’ well-beingNIH to host Twitter chat on science of yoga and Expert argues that for athletes, “sleep could mean the difference between winning and losing”
Via Tiffany Russo Yoga
Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

Aging, Health and Fitness, Mental Health, Neuroscience

Depression, lifestyle choices shown to adversely affect memory across age groups

Depression, lifestyle choices shown to adversely affect memory across age groups

IMG_0140Have trouble remember where you put your keys? Forgetting the names of familiar faces? A lack of physical activity, depression, high blood pressure and a variety of other health factors could be to blame, according to findings recently published in PLOS ONE.

In the study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Gallup organization surveyed more than 18,000 people about memory and lifestyle choices previously shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. PsychCentral reports:

Depression, low levels of education, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure increased the likelihood of memory complaints in younger adults (ages 18–39), middle-aged adults (40–59), and older adults (60–99), the researchers found.

Depression was the strongest single risk factor for memory complaints in all age groups.

Having just one risk factor significantly increased the frequency of memory complaints, regardless of age, according to researchers. Memory complaints rose when the number of risk factors increased.

Overall, 20 percent of those polled had memory complaints, including 14 percent of younger adults, 22 percent of middle-aged adults, and 26 percent of older adults.

For younger adults, stress may play more of a role, and the ubiquity of technology — including the Internet and wireless devices, which can often result in constant multi-tasking — may impact their attention span, making it harder to focus and remember.

Researchers hope the findings, and follow-up studies, better identify how health choices made earlier on may impact cognitive function at a later age and lead to interventions to lower the risk of memory loss.

Previously: Newly identified protein helps explain how exercise boosts brain health, Exercise may protect aging brain from memory loss following infection, injury, Stanford biostatistician talks about saving your aging brain and Exercise may be effective in treating depression
Photo by bibliojojo

Health and Fitness, Obesity, Sleep

Why your sleeping habits may be preventing you from sticking to a fitness routine

Why your sleeping habits may be preventing you from sticking to a fitness routine

sleep_06.03.14New research suggests that a later bedtime is associated with a person spending more time sitting during the day and being less motivated to exercise.

The study involved a group of more than a hundred healthy adults with a self-reported sleep duration of at least six and a half hours. Researchers measured sleep variables over the course of a week using wrist actigraphy along with sleep diaries. Participants completed questionnaires about their physical activity and attitudes toward exercise. According to an American Academy of Sleep Medicine release, study results showed:

…that later sleep times were associated with more self-reported minutes sitting, and sleep timing remained a significant predictor of sedentary minutes after controlling for age and sleep duration. However, people who characterized themselves as night owls reported more sitting time and more perceived barriers to exercise, including not having enough time for exercise and being unable to stick to an exercise schedule regardless of what time they actually went to bed or woke up.

“We found that even among healthy, active individuals, sleep timing and circadian preference are related to activity patterns and attitudes toward physical activity,” said principal investigator Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, associate professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. “Waking up late and being an evening person were related to more time spent sitting, particularly on weekends and with difficulty making time to exercise.”

In their conclusion, researchers suggested that sleep habits – particularly those of adults who are less active – be taken into consideration as part of exercise recommendations and interventions.

Previously: Expert argues that for athletes, “sleep could mean the difference between winning and losing”, Ask Stanford Med: Cheri Mah responds to questions on sleep and athletic performance, A slam dunk for sleep: Study shows benefits of slumber on athletic performance and Want to be like Mike? Take a nap on game day
Photo by Becky Wetherington

Aging, Health and Fitness, Health Policy, Public Health, Stanford News

Moderate exercise program for older adults reduces mobility disability, study shows

Moderate exercise program for older adults reduces mobility disability, study shows

senior_dog_walk

A 20-minute walk each day could help older adults stay on their feet and out of wheelchairs longer, according to a multicenter study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today and coordinated by the University of Florida.

Researchers showed that a daily program of moderate physical activity reduced the risk of mobility disability in older adults by 18 percent compared to those who did not exercise. They also found a 28-percent reduction in the permanent loss of the ability to walk unaided.

Mobility, defined in this study as the ability to walk without assistance for at least 400 meters or about a quarter mile, is critical for aging seniors to function independently. Loss of mobility can lead to higher hospitalization and institutionalization costs, and even early death.

“These results suggest the potential for structured physical activity as a feasible and effective intervention to reduce the burden of disability among vulnerable older persons, in spite of some functional decline in late life,” wrote the researchers.

“While people are aware of the benefits of physical activity, this study is the largest and longest duration randomized trial evaluating the effects of physical activity on mobility disability in older adults. It will provide the hard evidence needed to change health policy,” said Abby King, PhD, the lead investigator for the Stanford field center and a professor of health research and policy and of medicine.

For this study, 1,635 sedentary men and women, age 70 to 89, were recruited by eight field centers across the United States and followed for an average of 2.6 years. All participants were able to walk a quarter mile within 15 minutes but were at risk for losing that ability.

“These are the patients who physicians see every day. This is why this study is so important: It includes a population that is typically understudied,” said principal investigator Marco Pahor, MD, director of the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging.

During the study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group walked 150 minutes per week and did strength, flexibility and balance training. They were encouraged to stay on track with the program through weekly participation in two in-person exercise classes and several home-based physical activity sessions. The second group attended health education classes, including low-intensity stretching exercises.

King said one of the most important takeaways from the study was this: “It’s never too late to gain important benefits from increased physical activity.”

Study results are summarized in this JAMA Report video.

Previously: AAMC’s Health Equity Research Snapshot features Stanford project on virtual health advisers, Help from a virtual friend goes a long way in boosting older adults’ physical activity, Computer-generated phone calls shown to help inactive adults get – and keep – moving
Photo by hartcreations/iStock

Fertility, Health and Fitness, Men's Health, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

sperm graffitiMen with multiple defects in their semen appear to be at increased risk of dying sooner than men with normal semen, according to a study of some  12,000 men who were evaluated at two different centers specializing in male-infertility problems.

In that study, led by Michael Eisenberg, MD, PhD, Stanford’s director of male reproductive medicine and surgery, men with more than one such defect such as reduced total semen volume, low sperm counts or motility, or aberrant sperm shape were more than twice as likely to die, over a seven-and-a-half-year follow-up period, than men found to be free of such issues.

Given that one in seven couples in developed countries encounter fertility problems at some point, Eisenberg told me, a two-fold increase in mortality rates qualifies as a serious health issue. As he told me for an explanatory release I wrote about the study:

“Smoking and diabetes — either of which doubles mortality risk — both get a lot of attention… But here we’re seeing the same doubled risk with male infertility, which is relatively understudied.”

Moreover, the difference was statistically significant, despite the fact that relatively few men died, due primarily to their relative youth (typically between 30 and 40 years old) when first evaluated. And the difference persisted despite the researchers’ efforts to control for differences in health status and age between the two groups.

Eisenberg has previously found that childless men are at heightened risk of death from cardiovascular disease and that men with low sperm production face increased cancer risk.

Previously:  Men with kids are at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their childless counterparts and Low sperm count can mean increased cancer risk
Photo by Grace Hebert

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, In the News

Examining how prolonged high-intensity exercise affects heart health

Examining how prolonged high-intensity exercise affects heart health

woman running near mountain

Emerging scientific evidence points to a possible threshold of intensity, duration or distance that if crossed could limit the benefits of physical activity. A pair of new studies in the journal Heart raise concerns that prolonged, extreme exercise could negatively affect heart health for certain groups.

In the first study, German researchers followed more than 1,000 people with stable heart disease for a decade. Participants’ exercise habits ranged from less than two times a week to more than four times a week. WebMD reports that researchers found:

Compared to those who got regular exercise, the most inactive people were about twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and were about four times more likely to die of heart disease and all causes, the researchers said.

However, Mons’ team also found that those who did the most strenuous daily exercise were more than twice as likely to die of a heart attack compared to those who exercised more moderately.

For the second study, Swedish researchers evaluated the potential of endurance exercise to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. It included 44,000 men who were surveyed about their previous levels of physical activity certain ages and then had their heart health monitored for 12 years. More from the article:

Those who had done intensive exercise for more than five hours a week when they were younger were 19 percent more likely to have developed a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation by age 60 than those who exercised for less than an hour a week.

That risk increased to 49 percent among those who did more than five hours of exercise at age 30 but did less than an hour a week by the time they were 60. Participants who cycled or walked briskly for an hour or more a day at age 60 were 13 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

Authors of an accompanying editorial concluded that “the benefits of exercise are definitely not to be questioned,” and that the findings could be useful to “maximize benefits obtained by regular exercise while preventing undesirable effects.”

Previously: Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30, Study reveals initial findings on health of most extreme runners, Is extreme distance running healthy or harmful? and Untrained marathoners may risk temporary heart damage
Photo by Robin McConnell

Complementary Medicine, Health and Fitness, In the News, Mental Health

Research brings meditation’s health benefits into focus

Research brings meditation's health benefits into focus

Allyson meditationThe effects of meditation aren’t all in your head; they influence your body and spirit, too. That’s according to a Huffington Post piece and infographic summarizing results from a range of studies showing how the practice of the mind can have far-reaching effects in a person. Being in the moment offers not only the potential to reduce sensitivity to pain, ease stress and increase focus, the piece notes, but also to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and invite restorative sleep.

As discussed here previously, meditation may play a role in shaping other aspects of life. Laura Schocker writes:

Cultivates willpower. Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. told Stanford Medicine’s SCOPE blog in 2011 that both physical exercise and meditation can help train the brain for willpower:

Meditation training improves a wide range of willpower skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control and self-awareness. It changes both the function and structure of the brain to support self-control. For example, regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.

Now, go find a blank wall. See you in 20 minutes.

Previously: Using meditation to train the brainHow meditation can influence gene activityAsk Stanford Med: Answers to your questions about willpower and tools to reach our goals and The science of willpower
Photo of Allyson Pfeifer by Ashley Turner

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, Research, Women's Health

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

woman_running_londonHeart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease claims the life of someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister every minute in the United States, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. Now a study shows that an inactive lifestyle outweighs other risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, for developing cardiovascular disease among women age 30 and older.

In the study, Australian researchers tracked the health of more than 30,000 women born in the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s. Findings showed that for women under the age of 30, smoking had the most significant impact on women’s risk of heart disease. But as women got older, and kicked their nicotine habit, the biggest factor shifted to lack of exercise. According to a recent MedPage Today story:

The results highlight the fact that population attributable risks for heart disease appear to change throughout women’s lives, the researchers concluded.

The study findings highlight the importance of emphasizing regular exercise for reducing cardiovascular disease risk, especially in young adulthood and middle age, the researchers said.

“Our data suggest that national programs for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now,” they wrote.

They estimated that “if every woman between the ages of 30 and 90 were able to reach the recommended weekly exercise quota — 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity — then the lives of more than 2,000 middle-age and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone.”

Previously: Study shows many women have a limited knowledge of stroke warning signs, More evidence that prolonged inactivity may shorten life span, increase risk of chronic disease, Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary death and Ask Stanford Med: Cardiologist Jennifer Tremmel responds to questions on women’s heart health
Photo by James Roberts

Aging, Behavioral Science, Health and Fitness, Research

Spouses with sunnier dispositions may boost their partners’ well-being

husband_wife_bike_ridePast research has shown that a positive outlook on life could be a factor in both health and longevity. But findings recently published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research suggest that having an upbeat spouse can enhance a person’s overall health, even above and beyond an individual’s own level of optimism.

In the study, researchers examined data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel study that surveys a representative sample of more than 26,000 Americans over the age of 50 every two years. The University of Michigan investigators also tracked 1,970 heterosexual couples for four years and reported on their physical functioning, health and certain chronic illnesses. Results showed having an optimistic spouse predicted better mobility and fewer chronic illnesses over time.

According to a Futurity post, social support may partly explain the findings:

Optimists are more likely to seek social support when facing difficult situations and have a larger network of friends who provide that support.

In close relationships, optimism predicts enhanced satisfaction and better cooperative problem-solving.

“So practically speaking, I can imagine an optimistic spouse encouraging his or her partner to go to the gym or eat a healthier meal because the spouse genuinely believes the behavior will make a difference in health,” [Eric Kim, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s psychology department,] says.

Previously: The scientific importance of social connections for your health, Examining how your friends influence your health, Can good friends help you live longer? and How social networks might affect your health
Photo by Christopher

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