Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wii Not So Fit?

Chances are, unless you have no computer access, don't own a television, or live in a bubble, you've heard of the Wii Fit. It's recently picked up a storm of media amidst the widespread obesity epidemic, as well as video game consumers eager for the "fun" fitness it promises. Among the Wii Fit's games, of which there is a myriad to choose from, include boxing, tennis, bowling, yoga, snowboarding, and skiing. Oh - and running.

According to Nintendo's website, "Wii Fit is a combination of fitness and fun, designed for everyone, young and old. By playing Wii Fit a little every day, you, your friends, and your family can work towards personal goals of better health and fitness." Hm, I'm not so sure about that. Indeed, otherwise sedentary individuals may find it helps build a basic level of fitness, but for runners and other participants in more rigorous exercise, replacing such a workout routine with that of the Wii Fits would be quite detrimental to one's performance.

The "running" game requires the user to hold onto the Wii remote as they essentially hop in place, with the options of simultaneously watching TV, exploring the 12 virtual trails in the game with either your trainer or a dog, or accompanying a fellow gamer on a two-person run.

Perhaps it's the dedicated, hardcore runner in me, but after watching this YouTube video of the Wii's so-called "running," I feel calling it this almost makes a mockery of the sport. In fact, the movements of this game much more similarly mimic the motions of jump-roping.

Yet, the Wii Fit also presents itself as a very light cross-training possibility. If it's a rest or recovery day, playing a couple matches of tennis or boxing with a friend might be a viable option.

I suppose the plus to "running" on Wii's trail network is that it's just about impossible to get lost, mugged, stuck in sticky situations, caught in hazardous weather, or stopped by intersections and traffic lights. But then where's the fun in running?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Run A Marathon, Save 1.8 Lives

That's right, folks. The media tends to concentrate on the deaths that occur in marathons, focused on the danger of running 26.2 miles rather than the celebration of so many of the finishers' accomplishments. It's rather ironic when the same media touts the results of the opposite end of the spectrum, which is America's obesity epidemic and the adverse effects of being sedentary has on individuals. But having examined a particular study in the British Medical Journal, it is now safe to say I'd much rather be running a marathon than driving a car.

This experiment showed that, out of 26 marathons totaling more than 3 million participants over the course of 30 years, more deaths could be attributed to vehicle crashes than marathon running. Researchers recorded the number of sudden cardiac deaths after each marathon and compared them with the numbers of motor vehicle deaths along the route during the same hours one week before and one week after these 26.2-mile races. They also looked at routes outside the marathon to account for any spill-over traffic (traffic that was forced to navigate around the blocked-off roads).

The results? Across the 30-year duration, 26 cardiac deaths occurred in the marathons. Put another way, this statistic is equal to a rate of 0.8 deaths per million hours of exercise. In contrast, approximately 46 lives were saved in motor vehicle accidents that would have otherwise taken place had the marathon not closed these roads. The re-routing of traffic could not account for this lower death toll.

Thus, researchers Donald A Redelmeier and J Ari Greenwald found that running marathons has a 35% less relative death risk than that of driving, which "amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed."

Of course, as with every study, there are critics who search for flaws in the methods used by researchers. One such critic, Graeme D. Ruxton, proposed, "...if [Redelmeier and Greenwald] are correct that marathons lead to a reduction rather than a redistribution of road traffic accidents, perhaps the reason is because marathon runners are intrinsically dangerous drivers and the key function to society of marathons is to keep these people off our roads for a few hours!" As a runner, such a statement cannot help but slightly offend. However, it is merely a different (and less direct) interpretation of the results, which are rarely definitive matters.

Despite critics, the main purpose of the experiment was fulfilled with Redelmeier and Greenwald's conclusion that, "Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media."

Therefore, I encourage all of my readers to run marathons! It saves lives! And it most likely won't be at the expense of your own.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Running Away From H1N1

H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu, has been attracting increasing national media attention this past week. Even though we're runners with minds and wills of steel, our physical bodies are none the less mortal and therefore equally as susceptible to catching such viruses. We often run in isolation, but the combination of long runs, which can weaken the immune system, and time spent in crowded areas like the gym or races, where the chances of being exposed to such contagions is much higher, means runners must heed the advice of the medical community with special diligence.

First, to all you gym rats out there, beware! In the effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, gym junkies in their natural habitat of fitness and health clubs everywhere are often surrounded by germs in vast numbers. If one really thinks about it, this makes sense. People wearing minimal clothing, groping the workout equipment with their sweaty bodies as they make strides towards their fitness endeavors, is not exactly the equation for optimal sanitary conditions. Though most germs are harmless, gyms are breeding grounds for harmless and pathogenic germs alike.

According to an ABC News study, areas that experience a high number of people in a short amount of time and thus are oases for germapalooza include dumbbells, bike seats, and weight lifting benches. Next time you use such equipment, think about both applying disinfectant to the equipment before use and washing your hands after the workout. If you have any open cuts or scratches, which are wide-open invitations for infection, be diligent by properly cleaning them and covering them up with band-aids prior to going to the gym. And, before you pick up that post-workout snack, remember to wash your hands.

But the area that was found to be the greatest germ hot-spot, as one might suspect, was that of the showers. Saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms are also areas with high concentrations of bacteria, as their warm, moist environments are perfect breeding grounds for these microscopic creatures. In these areas, avoid going barefoot - instead, opt to wear water shoes or flip-flops. To anyone who discredits this idea as "fashion suicide," I must inquire, would you rather be a healthy dork or swine-flu-inflicted, barefoot fashionista? At the gym, we're not by any means walking the red carpet! Thus, the obvious choice for me would be the healthy dork...and proud of it.

Secondly, many runners know their immune systems are suppressed up to 72 hours following the intense exercise that constitutes many long runs or marathons. Although runners are healthier in the long-run, this period is an open window of opportunity for any illnesses. During this window, simply be careful (but not paranoid) about avoiding excessive hand-shaking or other contact that could lead to the transmission of contagion.

Sunday, May 3, at the Pittsburgh Marathon where a turn-out of 10,000 runners is expected, marathon officials will be keeping a close eye on any H1N1 symptoms. In addition, the Flying Pig Marathon (which, ironically, has little to do with pigs) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which takes place the same day, is worried about the misleading label of "swine flu" having a negative impact on attendance. The Flying Pig Marathon organizers are encouraging the expected 23,000 runners to maintain their participation because, according to the race's medical director Dr. Jon Devine, "The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not told travelers to change any plans. Because these running and walking events are held outside, and the crowds are not confined to one hotel or one inside area, the chances of coming in contact with someone who is sick are remote."
Thus, it is clear the outbreak of H1N1 is having an effect on runners. To track its spread, you can go to the New York Times' Interactive Swine Flu Cases Map. But there is no need to become a frenzied, overnight convert to germophobism! Basic hygiene is the best way to avoid this flu, as well as most other contagions that could put a damper on your training plans. One should be cautious, but not overly so. Combining our running speed with anti-bacterial soap, we runners just might be ready and set to go out-run this H1N1.