Burger Loss

Last month in PEI we “celebrated” what has become an annual ritual known as Burger Love.  If you are not familiar with the concept, it is an event sponsored by various government industries and burgerlovethe PEI beef farmers to promote local meat consumption. Restaurants across the island prepare extravagant burgers, and after eating them (at $15/piece) the patrons rank them online so that a winner is crowned at the end of the month. Let me say upfront, that I don’t think this is a bad promotion overall – and for full disclosure I will admit that I tried a burger or two myself (usually shared with my wife) and they were quite tasty.

Like anything, however, Burger Love may best be enjoyed in moderation. Whether or not moderation was practiced is up for debate, but given that 145,527 burgers (65,068 lb of beef) were sold, at a rate of almost 5,000/day in a province of only 150,000 people, I find it hard to make that case. Compounding this effect, the Guinness record attempt for 24hr burger consumption saw 9,000 burgers consumed in this time. I’m not certain that this is something we ought to be particularly proud of – but my opinion may differ from the large majority.

As a health/performance physiologist, what jumped out at me was the size and relative caloric density of these burgers, many of which contain multiple meat paddies, and sugar/fat based glazes, sauces and toppings. Using the Dieticians of Canada “eaTracker” software (link) I calculated an average Burger Love meal to fall anywhere between 1500  to 2500 kcal ranging from the somewhat modest to more lavish creations. No big deal though- you can just exercise a little more than normal and burn it off….right?


Through the month of burger lovin, it occurred to me that the caloric math was probably not at the forefront of many diners’ minds nor did it play PhysicalExerciseprominently in the decision process of where or what to eat. So, for the sake of illumination, I thought it helpful to show just how much of an impact a single burger love could have on caloric balance, and how long you would need to exercise to get back to a zero-gain. For the following calculations I have made a few assumptions to represent the “average” person, which errs on the side of conservatism. Our fictitious person is a 30yr old male, of near average height (5’11”) and weight (170lb).

At a modest pace of 3mph, it would take approximately 420min (7hrs) of continuous walking. But perhaps that’s a silly comparison, because many fit 30-somethings would have no problem “upping” the intensity. If our burger-lover were to jog at a moderate pace it would only take him 280 min (>4.5hr) or if he ran at 7mph, he could cut the time of burger loss to a mere 160 min (2.7hr).  Obviously, running is not for everyone, perhaps a leisurely 3hr cycle (at 23-26km/h) is more your style. Prefer to swim? No problem, at a moderate pace you could burn off half of a burger in a mere 160 min (2.6hr).

So, does this mean you shouldn’t ever eat a hamburger? Of course not, you’ve got enjoy life and good food can certainly contribute to mental (and even physical) well-being. But understanding the idea of caloric balance (even if it’s as simple as calories in vs. calories out) might be an important consideration. But on the bright side, you’ve got a whole 11 months to burn it off before next year. Unfortunately, we might need it.

_new_Tw_gallery_img Interested in figuring out more about the energy costs of certain physical activities? Check out the American College of Sports Medicine “Compendium of Physical Activities” which can be found here in hard copy, or here as an online tool.

cbcUPDATE: It appears this post has grabbed some media attention (and maybe spurred some debate). To hear the CBC interview click here

Congratulations to the Human Performance Lab Summer Students

Great Job Brittany and Aaron!IMG_20140604_085122_edit

Brittany MacEwen (4th year Kinesiology Student) and Aaron Rainnie (2nd year Nursing student, and adopted Kin research assistant) have both been successful in competing for summer student research funding. Brittany has been awarded a SURA (Science Undergraduate Research Award) and Aaron has been awarded a CIHR Summer Studentship Award through the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis.  Both Brittany and Aaron are IMG_20141001_131200past recipients of CIHR Health Professional Student Research Award and have worked in the Human Performance Lab over the summer.

We are yet again looking forward to great things. Congrats on your continued success.


cihr-logoupei_shield_logo_rust text

UPEI to be Well Represented at APES

APESThis coming weekend UPEI Kinesiology graduate and undergraduate students will be traveling to St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish NS, to present their research. This year we will have a contingent of 10 excellent student presentations- an exciting accomplishment as we have watched the UPEI presence at the Atlantic Exercise Sciences Conference steadily grow over the last three years.

From the Human Performance Lab, graduate student Josh Slysz will be presenting his work on the “Recovery Effect of Ischemia and Reperfusion on Exercise Performance after Induced Muscle Soreness.” We will also have 2 undergraduate thesis presentations and an undergraduate independent research project from Brittany MacEwen, Jenny Beck and Aaron Rainnie, respectively. Their topics will be: Brittany- “The Efficacy of Standing-Desk Use for Altering Cardiometabolic Risk“,  Jenny-Effects of Habitual High Intensity Cross-Training on Measures of Resting Arterial Stiffness” and Aaron –The Effects of External Pneumatic Compression and Combined Muscle Stimulation on Thoracic Blood Volume and Cardiac Function

We are very excited for our students, and the other exercise science students from Atlantic Canada, to present. Should be a great weekend!


Interpreting and Understanding Research- common mistakes

It goes without saying the reading and understanding research is an important part of working in sports science. However, its not always as straight forward as looking at the data or reading what the authors conclude to be true. Here is a great article, from the folks at “Science 2.0″, looking at some of the common pitfalls in reading, understanding, and critically appraising research. A great reminder for graduate students and seasoned professionals alike!10_mistakes_we_all_make_when_interpreting_research Click the picture below (or HERE) to access the original content.

Curcumin Study- CBC news

Back in the news again! We were thrilled that interest remains high in the work we are doing in the Human Performance Lab, as CBC news was in once again to discuss our work. In the article (click HERE to access), my graduate student and lead researcher on this project, Matthew Boulter,  discusses his current work looking at ingesting certain compounds (Curcumin based) to affect muscular and vascular function. The results could have interesting implications for athletes looking to push themselves that extra little bit harder, with potential insight into the way the human body responds and adapts to the stresses of training.


A participant (J.Slysz) Runs downhill while lead researcher (M. Boulter) monitors his exertion. Photo: CBC news

Interested in getting involved?

Please check out our research ad and contact our team!

Curcumin Advertisement Research ad- Curcumin

Standing Desks

In the news again! Fourth year student, Brittany MacEwen is undertaking an interesting and important study for her fourth year honours project that involves replacing people’s traditional seated work stations with height adjustable sit-stand desks.  This work builds on Brittany’s recently published systematic review (in the scientific journal Preventive Medicine- click here to access), which examined the evidence for alterations in physiological health (and workplace productivity) resulting from the use of standing and walking workstations.

See the CcbcBC print news story here

For her current project, Brittany will be assigning standing deskparticipants to either a control group of normal seated desk work, or the experimental group who will have their desk swapped out for a sit-stand desk. We will be tracking peoples movement patterns (calories burned, sit vs stand time, intensity of movement), body composition changes, and a number of cardiovascular (heart disease) and metabolic (diabetes) risk factors. To see the recruitment poster, click HERE.

Want to get involved? Email the lab at upeiexerciselab@gmail.com



The Lemon Challenge

LemonMost people are likely aware of the ALS ice bucket challenge – a movement which swept the globe and saw people dumping buckets of ice water on their head (and challenging others to do the same) in an effort to raise money and awareness for ALS research. Riding on the success of this campaign, a new challenge has surfaced in an effort to raise awareness for diabetes- and the simple lifestyle related changes we can all make to reduce our risk or work toward better glucose control. The “Lemon Challenge – to bite and fight diabetes” sees participants eat a lemon while undertaking a feat of strength or other physical activity.  I decided to take on a physical activity that doesn’t require a trip to the gym and is easily incorporated into everyday life- in fact, my physical activity challenge (while eating a lemon) was specifically done during the commercial break of Monday Night Football. Spread the word and post your own videos…what are you going to do to take a bite out of diabetes?

Exam time and exercise

The good news is that the semester is winding to an end and the winter holidays are almost here. The bad news is that you have to get through exams first. Hopefully you have stayed on top of the material and all you need to do for the exam is review. Whether you did or not, the exam period tends to be a stressful time- and one of the best things you can do to relieve stress and keep a happy and healthy outlook is to exercise!  In fact, did you know that exercise might even help you perform better on your exams?  Check out the graphic below of a functional MRI scan of the brain before and after exercise.

Brain scan

Sometimes it feels hard to justify a study break to go run around for a while, but remember, it just might help you!

Best of luck to everyone and have a great break. See you in January.


Female SteroidsPerformance enhancing drug use is an issue in Canada….not just amongst regulated athletes, but also sub-elite athletes and (typically young) recreational exercisers looking to improve strength and aesthetics.  The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (who is responsible for “dope testing” in Canada) has released the following media campaign, which cuts to the point in an effort to increase awareness of the negative consequences of unregulated use. There is no doubt that steroids are physiologically effective, and they serve an important role in clinical/therapeutic care; but is the short-cut a worthwhile risk and a sustainable part of life for the “recreational” user?  Perhaps this novel campaign will help some potential users address these challenging questions. For more information on steroids and clean sport participation visit the CCES website (here). male steroids


Up-coming Webinar on the Role of Physical Activity and Exercise in Pre-Diabetes


Next week (Monday Nov. 17th, 7-9:30EST) Dr. Burr will be leading a webinar on the role of exercise in diabetes care. This particular session will focus on risk classification, diabetes prevention and exercise for persons with pre-diabetes. The content is geared toward exercise professionals working in clinical care, as well as diabetes care providers who are interested in understanding more about the physiological benefits of exercise and how to safely and effectively prescribe & monitor programs.  This session is one of a four part series organized by Dr. Jonathon Fowles through the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the Canadian Diabetes Association. Other sessions in the series will focus  specifically on Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes and are being led by Dr. Jonathan McGavock (University of Manitoba) and  Dr. Jonathon Fowles (Acadia), respectively.

Details about how to register for the live webinar (or how to purchase access to the recorded version) are here. 10 PDC credits are being offered for CSEP members.CDA_Logo_Colour_08csep


CSEP 2014 Posters

pic2pic3picLooking for some more information about our research we presented at CSEP 2014 in Newfoundland (or do you actually want to be able to read the posters)?  Click on the links below for a copy of the posters and full references (all as online PDF).

CSEP poster PWV SYS REV online CSEP poster RECOVERY CSEP Poster SYS REV(refernences-PDF) CSEP Poster SYS REV

Upcoming Research Presentations

Next week, members of the Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory will be traveling to St John’s NL for the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.   Matthew Boulter and Josh Slysz will both be presenting the results of meta-analyses they have conducted (on exercise & pulse wave velocity, and the efficacy of blood flow restrictedCSEP conference logo exercise, respectively). Josh will also be presenting some original research into the efficacy of a novel mode of exercise recovery using an ischemic/re-perfusion stimulus combined with electrical stimulation. We will post a copy of these presentations to the website soon!

Dr. Burr will also be presenting at the conference and co-chairing a symposiumCapture titled: “Examining the unique physiological demands, risks, and benefits of Oldtimer’s hockey: is Canada’s game for everyone?”  Within this symposium Dr. Burr will focus on various established and more experimental strategies to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in old-timer’s hockey players.

He will also be chairing a free communication session on human performance.


More Mitacs Funding in the Human Performance Lab

MITACSCongratulations to Matthew Boulter who received Mitacs Accelerate funding to support his MSc thesis work examining the effects of anti-inflammatory use on the arterial function of athletes following eccentric aerobic exercise. Matthew’s novel project is examining what happens to runners who push themselves really hard time after time (he wants to know if the alterations in arterial stiffening/endothelial reactivity that he observed in an earlier study occur to the same extent each time an athlete is exposed to this type of over-reaching exercise, or if the arteries adapt the same way our muscles do). Matthew is also looking at the use of Curcumin as an oral supplement to help our body deal with the inflammatory effects and muscle damage that occur with really intense exercise. The results of this research could have important implications for a range of people including endurance athletes and weight lifters all the way to people with certain chronic diseases. Want to know more about his studies, or maybe even get involved? Contact Matthew at msboulter@upei.ca. IMG_3099

Keep up the great work Matthew. We eagerly await the results.

Take a stand on sitting

There is accumulating evidence that sitting might be bad for you….and I don’t just mean that if you are a couch potato you might gain weight. In fact, some research suggests that the amount of sitting one does throughout their day is independently associated with health risks – that is, even if you meet the recommended guidelines of 150min/wk of moderate to vigorous activity, if you work a desk job (or otherwise sit for many hours a day) you are likely less healthy than you would be if you stood and moved more. So, we got our hands on a few standing desks and its time to put this to the test. Brittany MacEwen, a fourth year kinesiology student working in the Human Performance Lab with Dr. Burr and Dr. Saunders is looking at the effects of swapping out a traditional desk with a standing desk for 3 months. She will track the effects on things like: fitness, metabolic rate (calories burned), diabetes risk, cholesterol levels, movement at work (and at home after work) and arterial health. We can’t wait to see what happens!

We are currently recruiting. If you work on or near campus, have a desk job, perhaps carry a few more pounds than you used to and are interested in learning more information on how to get involved please check out the recruitment poster and email upeiexerciselab@gmail.com

Welcome to UPEI Dr. Travis Saunders!


Dr. Travis Saunders

The Human Performance and Health Research Lab is thrilled to welcome Dr. Travis Saunders to UPEI. Dr. Saunders is an exercise physiologist with expertise in sedentary behavior and chronic disease. Travis comes to UPEI from eastern Ontario where he did his MSc (Queens) & PhD (Ottawa), and more recently from Halifax wherein he was completing post-doctoral work at Dalhousie. Travis brings a wealth of experience and will make a great addition to the team. We are excited to have him aboard as a colleague and close collaborator!




Varsity Athlete Fitness Combine.


This fall the UPEI Varsity Panthers and Human Performance Laboratory joined forces to launch the first ever varsity fitness testing combine. Male and female athletes from all varsity sports (Soccer, field hockey, rugby, swimming, basketball, hockey) came together for two days of combine testing in the Sports Centre gym, modeled after the pro sports combines on which our lab members have worked. Athletes were put to the test on a variety of broad fitness measures including aerobic fitness, upper and lower body power, agility, speed and endurance. Team specific fitness measures will follow with each individual team. Some impressive performances were laid down by both male and female athletes, and in time we hope to designate the wall of fame, honouring top performances across the years. Thanks to varsity athletics for their support, Human Performance Lab members for their hard work, Coaches and testers for their time & commitment and athletes for their motivated efforts and positive attitudes. We are building something great here. We are already looking forward to next year! Varsity combine

More pictures here

Pamela Arsenault receives Mitacs Accelerate Funding!


Dr. Pamela Arsenault, Mitacs Accelerate Post-Doctoral funding recipient

MITACSCongratulations to Dr. Pamela Arsenault who has successfully secured Mitacs Accelerate funding to support personnel and research for the work she is doing in the Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory. Great job Pam! Keep up the good work, and we eagerly look forward to releasing the results of this research!

We’re Recruiting!

cbcAs heard on this week’s CBC news report, we’re looking for  volunteers to help us out with a number of research studies.  Our work ranges from investigations on metabolism and health to physical activity and exercise studies. The time commitment, risks, benefits and compensation vary for each study, and we ask potential participants to consider what study best suits his or her own personal interests and lifestyle as a volunteer.

Below is a list of some ongoing and future projects. Please click on the links to learn more. You can also visit the UPEI research participant page to check out opportunities campus wide to get involved in front-line research! If you are interested in our research, please email us for more information by using the contact page (see tab on main page) or contacting any of the researchers on the team.

Capsaicinoid studies

We are examining the effects of the active ingredient in hot peppers (in pill form) to alter fat burning. This may have effects on weight loss or heart health. This study involves 2 lab visits over a period of 12 weeks. People needed: 40 (20 male, 20 female), 18-45 yr old. (Click either of the following posters: poster 1 or poster 2)

We are also investigating the potential effect on exercise performance. This study involves 3 visits to the lab to 1) determine fitness and 2) to test exercise performance (on a bike) with the performance tests occurring 2 weeks apart.  Participants needed: 15 (male and female). Participants should be motivated to exercise for testing.

Contact: kbeck@upei.ca

Blood flow restriction studies

We are testing a novel type of “passive exercise” to affect adaptations. See the CBC news clip here. There are Capturemultiple potential applications of this research ranging from rehabilitative and post-operative applications, to body building and sports performance. The best part, is that we will take care of all the “work” in the workout.

We are currently undertaking two studies- the first is examining the ability of this new technique to cause changes in muscle strength and size. Participants will come to the lab 4 days per week, for 30 min per day, for 6 weeks. Body scans (fat vs muscle will be performed at QEH) and strength/endurance measured at UPEI. Participant spots: 12 male and 12 female.

We are also investigating the effects of this type of automated device to improve recovery from taxing exercise.  We are seeking athletes (cyclists/triathletes) capable of performing a short 30 sec all out sprint as well as a max exertion 10km time trial on a virtual cycling course. Click this advertisement (right) for details Recovery study poster

Contact: upeiexerciselab@gmail.com

Eccentric aerobic exercise study

This study investigates the impact of an antioxidant supplement to reduce exercise induced inflammation and speed recovery after intensive exercise. This could have implications for recovery from exercise and longer term cardiovascular health.

People needed: 40 (20 male, 20 female), 18-45 yr. old. Capable of 40min run at a moderate exercise intensity  (Downhill running)


Contact: upeiexerciselab@gmail.com

Old-timers hockey study

We are interested in mitigating the risk of a heart attack for hockey players (>45yr) through simple alterations to the game. We also want to better understand the characteristics of a typical game in regard to exercise intensity, shift length, number of shifts, recovery time etc. We are seeking old-timers hockey teams in the Charlottetown area who would be willing to let our research team instrument you with a non- invasive heart rate monitoring device during a regular game (2 times).

Contact: Dr. Jamie Burr (use contact page)

 Upcoming Projects:

Although we haven’t yet started accepting volunteers, we have two planned studies for the fall looking at the metabolic effects of using a standing desk workstation and also an investigation into the cardiovascular effects of “cross-fit” style exercise. Stay tuned!


Capsaicinoid studies


As mentioned in an earlier post, our laboratory is preparing to undertake some new research into the possible effects of capsaicin (the ingredient in hot peppers that makes them hot!) for altering metabolism and possibly affecting exercise capacity. Whether you are a fan of hot food or not, new techniques to purify ingredients and package them in a small capsule make ingestion of the active ingredients palatable. It is possible that ingesting this concentrated form of capsaicin, without eating massive amounts of spicy food, could in turn affect the way one’s body uses stored fat and affect weight loss or increase exercise performance. This is what we seek to find out!

Dr. Pamela Arsenault a post-doctoral researcher working in the Human ycoGakacEPerformance and Health Laboratory was recently on CBC radio discussing the research.  You can here the whole interview HERE.  If you are interested (and in the Atlantic region) recruitment will be taking place spring/summer of 2014.

View our full recruitment add from the Guardian here chili_peppers_research

Advice for Potential Graduate Students….

I often do a lecture about graduate school in my Kinesiology 101 class. Although I have had many students tell me how much they appreciate this lecture, I am sure there are many subtleties of the talk go unappreciated as it is an initiation to Grad-School-Yellowa new world for most. In truth, I’m not sure that you can fully understand graduate school until you’re immersed in it, and maybe even not then. Perhaps the real clarity doesn’t come until you’ve made it through to the other side and can look back contemplatively. It is precisely for this reason that I liked the following article. Although I might not be able to completely guide students toward all the best questions and answers while searching for the optimal laboratory to work in, I feel that I should at least continue to try.

-Click the link below to open the pdf of a great piece by Sönke Johnsen from Duke –

grad school

Welcome Dr. Pamela Arsenault

The Human Performance and Health Research Laboratory is thrilled to welcome Pamela Arsenault to our laboratory as a post-doctoral researcher. This summer Dr. Arsenault will be leading two projects examining the cardiovascular and metabolic effects of capsaicinoid ingestion on human physiological function at rest and during acute exercise performance. More details on the studies to follow.  Welcome Pam!

Link to the research HERE


Downhill running and human arteries

born-to-runIn our quest to better understand the cardiovascular effects of long distance running, we have come to understand that certain types of prolonged running result in a stiffening of the arteries (original research here).  This was a surprising finding for us, because it is generally well accepted that participation in aerobic exercise leads to more compliant arteries, which in turn reduces the work required of the heart to pump blood.  However, while examining this effect using varying exposures of exercise and varied terrain, a pattern developed suggesting that only certain races (long ones with large elevation changes) led to a pronounced effect. We hypothesized that perhaps the added distance, intensity and (in particular) downhill segments of a course added to the stress on the body wherein the muscles are required to produce a force while lengthening. We call this an “eccentric” muscle contraction, and we know that eccentric muscle contractions are associated with increased muscle damage and soreness.

To test this theory we designed a new study, published last week in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (link), to determine what happened when participants ran a relatively short distance (40 min) at a moderate pace (60% of max), but the entire run was downhill. What we found was that arterial stiffness increased following the run, and that the stiffness didn’t peak until 48hr afterwards. Interestingly, this coincided with the Style: "Neutral"participant’s peak muscle soreness (which they reported considering their discomfort in daily life and how much pressure we could apply to the muscle before it became painful). This leads us to believe that these changes may be related, and this could suggest that the effect is driven by underlying inflammation caused by the muscular damage.

Now what?  Like many new discoveries, this may have led to more questions than answers. Next, we want to understand if the inflammatory effects are local or systemic (whole body), which we can test by measuring changes in muscle swelling and certain markers in the blood. We also want to understand if this effect happens similarly to everyone, or are there ways that we can lessen the effect? For instance, are people who are more fit less susceptible to the effects because the downhill running is less stressful for their muscles? We know that muscle soreness decreases with training and repeated exposure, so this seems like a reasonable idea. We also wonder if there are other things we can do to reduce the delayed effect, like taking anti-inflammatory drugs. Lastly, we don’t yet fully understand what the arterial stiffening means in terms of overall health and wellness. Consistently stiff arteries at rest are known to increase cardiovascular risk, but we don’t yet know what the transient changes following exercise might mean for risk in the short or long term. Stay tuned.

To be clear, for now- we are not saying that exercise is bad for you. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that exercise is good for your cardiovascular system. However, we are starting to see evidence that certain types of over-reaching exercise (i.e. the type of exercise that does not happen without serious planned effort) may start to border on “too much of a good thing.”


Let your inner nerd watch the Olympic games too.

1391878995000-USP-Olympics-Cross-Country-Skiing-Ladies-SkiathloIf you are anything like me, you simply cant get enough of the Olympic Winter Games. I could sit on my couch the entire 16 days straight -although the irony of being so sedentary to watch sport isn’t lost on me.

So what is it about the games that is so intriguing and awe inspiring? Yes, part of the allure is the competition itself – watching the best in the world go head to head, the elite talent, the raw emotion, and the pressure of competing with so much on line. But for me, and my inner exercise physiology nerd, its also what the Olympic sports offer that you just don’t find in traditional North American sports – the display/test of the raw attributes of fitness at the highest level. In fact, I can think of no better examples of the different types of strength, endurance, and power than we are currently seeing on display.

Take, for example, the bobsled. Sure, we all think of it like NASCAR on ice, but really bobsled represents one of the most pure examples of an all out speed/power sport (CP-ATP energy system). How so? Along with the start order and ice temperature (which are beyond athlete’s directbob control) the bobsled push has been shown to account for 50% of the variance in performance. That’s right, the first 50m of pushing the sled (lasts <5sec) is amongst the biggest determinants of success. And the athletes don’t just need to be fast, they need to be strong as the sleds weight 400-500lb.

On the other end of the spectrum in the Nordic skiing sports we see pure “aerobic animals” (see Kreb’s Cycle / aerobic metabolism). Cross-country skiers have the highest VO2max scores ever recorded, and although technique/tactic is surely important, many races really come down to “who can push themselves harder for longer.” Add to that the fact that you need to propel yourself using both your upper and lower body and even compared to other long distance sports, the demands go up. During the biathlon, participants not only have to ski, but also periodically stop and shoot small targets from a distance. Being in good shape certainly helps with the skiing and also with recovery whimageen it comes time to shoot; but biathletes also use carefully timed breathing to stabilize their shots by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system and slowing their heart rate. Yeah, that’s a cool application of physiology knowledge.

And somewhere in between, we find the sports like speed skating, alpine skiing and freestyle skiing and snowboarding. These are the sports that require athletes to work at the highest possible intensity they can until their muscles are screaming at them to stop as the bi-products of anaerobic metabolism accumulate (Glycolytic pathways). Often times, these sports not only require high intensity repeated output, but also the maintenance of good form to avoid losing efficiency, style, or control -which could lead to a high consequence crash.

If you watch carefully, the Olympics will bring your textbooks to life. On the simplest level, the Olympics show that the competition is all about who can understand (and best manipulate) the science of what’s happening in the experiment that is the athlete’s body.

Ultra-marathon and arterial stiffness

trail-runnerLast week we published a paper (International Journal of Sports Medicinelink here) looking at what happens to the arteries of men who run long distances. As a quick background, it is generally well accepted that participation in most physical activities, including running, leads to more compliant (less stiff) arteries  – and this is a good thing. When the arteries are more compliant, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and studies have shown that stiffer arteries are associated with earlier disease and death.

However, based on some previous work my group had completed looking at participants who ran 100-200km through the Rocky Mountains, we had noticed that arterial compliance didn’t get any better, in fact, it got worse. So, we were interested in understanding what it is that makes some types of running lead to improvements and other types lead to decrements in arterial stiffness. For this particular investigation, we wanted to understand when these changes in arterial stiffness would occur and how long they lasted. One of the challenges of studying this type human response is that 1) not everyone is capable of running extremely long distances and 2) those who are, don’t really want to stop running in the middle of a race so a bunch of researchers can poke and prod them while their competition catches up or pulls away.  To add to that, bringing sensitive lab equipment in to the remote areas where these athletes are running is a logistical nightmare.

So, we decided to make our own race that circled around campus and passed by the laboratory each lap. Each runner would do 5 laps of a 15km course and after three laps (very close to marathon distance) there would be a mandatory break at thstylin 022e lab for measures. Then participants would run another 30 km and return to the lab after which time we would see what effect the additional mileage had on arteries and monitor them into recovery. We set up the ultra-marathon as a real race (with sponsors, race bibs, aid tables and prizes), which was more effective at promoting a real race mentality in the runners than even we had expected.

What did we find: this investigation seemed to suggest that the distance run is one of the factors that determines how the arteries will respond- as we initially saw arterial stiffness decrease, followed by an increase back toward non-exercise levels. Given previous research that has demonstrated that extreme or prolonged high intensity causes a temporary arterial stiffening, it seems likely that an interplay with intensity was involved as well. Perhaps, at longer distances/higher intensity the body starts be be overwhelmed by the stresses of exercise- a theory that has now led our group to examine the effects of exercise induced stress & inflammation. In particular, certain types of running and longer distances tend to induce greater amounts of cumulative muscle damage; and this, in turn, might be responsible for the stiffening we have previously reported following a really long challenging race- as well as a general stiffening in people who race these hard/long distances on a regular basis!

So, does this mean exercise is bad for you? In short, NO.  You do not need to stop exercising (or use this as an excuse to avoid starting a program if you don’t exercise now). The type of exercise used in these studies far exceeds that which a normal person could or would participate in without concerted effort to push his or her limits. At present, we also do not fully understand what the increase in arterial compliance after this type of exercise means for health or performance over the long run, or how these changes may interact with many of the known beneficial changes that are happening at the same time. It does, however, raise a lot of interesting questions….and we are excitedly following up on them! Stay tuned.