The One Thing

This TOJ is a total fanatic about the importance of regular exercise of all kinds to promote your health and well-being. But, hands down, the one thing that may be more important for your health, especially if you're a typical American, is to radically reduce your sugar consumption.

To understand why, watch this short video (I've posted the 1.5 hr. one before) by Dr. Robert Lustig:

Also, read this excellent discussion by Dr. Mercola.

The typical American diet is embalmed with sugars. The USDA recommends that we not consume more than the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. Of course, many people gorge themselves on pop, candy, and donuts, the usual sickly suspects. But they are only one source.

Where we really get poisoned is from the sugar-by-any-other-name in the list on the right side below. Look at the ingredients on everything in your freezer and cupboard. Whether frozen or canned, it likely has one or more of these sugars (note: molasses at least has a couple of nutrients, unlike all the rest). Then look at the food label chart for sugars. See how many grams on in it. Go down the list on the left. One teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams.

Double check the foods that are labeled "healthy" and "natural" like yogurt and granola bars. Very likely, just one of them contain all the sugar it's safe for you to eat for the entire day.

Look at the photo below, which shows what 10 teaspoons of sugar look like in comparison to 34 teaspoons of sugar, which is what is consumed each day by an average American. Wonder why you feel fat and sluggish? Wonder why so many people, especailly middle-aged and older, have pot guts?

It's possible to run, lift, or pedal off the calories from this excess. However, what's really important to grasp is that what makes sugar deadly is not about the calories, but it's destructive effects on your liver, rapid fat formation, insulin resistance, and the inflammation it causes to your arteries.

Remember, your body has NO requirement for refined sugars. None. It needs some carbohydrates, which are automatically converted to glucose.

Know how much sugar you are consuming in all forms. Never drink soda pop. Rarely eat sweet crap. Avoid processed foods. Learn how to trick your brain with natural sugar substitutes.

By reducing your intake of sugars and increasing your exercise, you give your body a chance to thrive. If you don't, you're poisoning yourself just like a drug addict.

Forever Young

I was watching a great documentary the other night called "Running the Sahara" about three men who ran all the way across the Sahara Desert where temperatures reached 140 degrees F. Check it out. It's a great documentary of an amazing athletic achievement.

It got me to thinking about an athletic performances that are right at the edge of human capability, and I remembered one that I witnessed a runner named John Bramley accomplish in the summer of 1977.
I had met John a year earlier through a mutual friend in Ft. Collins, Colorado. At the time, running and aerobic exercise were becoming a national craze. Steve Prefontaine had elevated the U.S. in to the highest echelons of distance running with a gutsy, dramatic fourth place performance in the 5000 meter in the Munich Olympics. Nike would soar to fame and riches is just a few years. It seemed everybody, including me, was running 10Ks.

John Bramley was different than the rest of us because he was on the verge of bursting onto the national scene as one the best distance runners in America. He had been a solid runner in college a few years earlier, but was getting faster and faster as he matured. While the rest of us might run 50 miles a week, he ran 120. And not on the flats. He'd run a 20 mile loop out of Ft. Collins then up, over, and down a dirt road that ran along Horsetooth Reservoir west of town, then back. He loved running, and like all runners, loved to talk about it. He had a great sense of humor and was very down to earth making us all feel like we were his running peers, when the differences between us in skill and endurance were day and night.

That summer in 1977, my friend, wife and I went to watch John Bramley compete in the Mt. Evans Ascent (then known as the Mt. Evans Trophy Run). It's the highest road race in America, climbing 14.5 miles from Echo Lake at 10,600 feet to the summit of Mt. Evans at 14,264. Because of the extreme high altitude, the race only attracted a couple hundred runners, many of whom would finish walking or not finish at all.

When we got there, we went to say hi to Bramley. He was his usual friendly self, but understandably a little distracted by the challenge ahead. Near the starting line, I was approached by a guy who was a cameraman with a major Denver station. He needed a ride on the course so he could film the race; there'd been a glitch and his ride hadn't shown up (this was pre-cell phone). He had noticed I was driving a Volvo station wagon. He had permission to take a vehicle onto the course.

So my wife and friend got in the station wagon, and the cameraman sat to the left under the rear door that opened up, with his legs dangling over the bumper. When the starting gun fired, we pulled away with the lead pack just a few yards in back of our car. I got the car in a position that I could see them in the rear view mirror in the space not occupied by the cameraman.

Within a few minutes, Bramley had pulled away from the rest, and he opened a bigger and bigger lead with each step. We marveled at how fast he was running - even paced, relaxed, at an amazing tempo. We knew we were seeing something special. Soon he was the only person I saw in the mirror.

At the cameraman's urging, we sped a couple hundred yards further ahead of him and stopped on the last switchback before the summit so he could be film Bramley on the final climb to the finish. We all got out and yelled encouragement. He smiled as he came by and crossed the finish. He had just run 14.5 miles (7 minute miles) uphill at very high altitude in 1:41:35, setting a course record that stood for 31 years.

Within two years, Bramley would also run the second fastest marathon in U.S. history, a record that only lasted a few months. I saw him once during that time. He was training for the 1980 Olympic Trials. He had been training hard and had some leg problems and been sick a lot. I heard he didn't make the final roster for the Olympics. Then I lost track of him.
After watching the story about guys who ran across the Sahara, I did an Internet search to remember the details of Bramley's accomplishment that day. My heart sunk. When Bramley's name came up in association with Mt. Evans, it also came up in connection with the story of a man whose body had been found on Long's Peak, a 14,000 ft. massif in Rocky Mountain National Park, in 2009. At age 55, John Bramley had died from a fall down the side the that mountain.He obviously never lost his passion for physical extremes. I read the obituary and some online remembrances. He left a wife and three daughters. He was remembered as a good father and friendly, humble, funny man. And a great runner in his time.

I felt sad, but privileged to have seen him run that day. I'll always remember John Bramley framed in my rear view mirror, running hard and fast, forever young.

A New Age in Military Fitness

Googling about fitness, this TOJ found an interesting document. Last year, the U.S. military announced a new plan for total force fitness. The military considers it a major paradigm shift from the way it's trained soldiers for decades. Here and there it does have a new age flavor, which I'm sure made it controversial with the the stiff-upper-lip, macho-suffer-in-silence old guard, because it uses the word "holistic" and admits that the most hardened soldier has social, psychological and spiritual needs that impact their effectiveness in combat.

Not to worry -- the new "total force fitness" protocol is not intended to turn warriors into flower children. In fact, it's very explicit that the goal is to help soldiers be effective and resilient.

This TOJ finds it well worth reading because the military has long placed a priority on physical fitness, and has the resources to study what works and what doesn't when it comes to physical training. The reason physical training is so important is well-described in a quote from a training manual mentioned in the document:
War places a great premium upon the strength, stamina, agility, and
coordination of the soldier because victory and his life are so
often dependent upon them. To march long distances with
full pack, weapons, and ammunition through rugged country
and to fight effectively upon arriving at the area of combat; to
drive fast-moving tanks and motor vehicles over rough terrain;
to make assaults and to run and crawl for long distances; to
jump into and out of foxholes, craters, and trenches, and over
obstacles; to lift and carry heavy objects; to keep going for
many hours without sleep or rest—all these activities of warfare
and many others require superbly conditioned troops.  
But their new approach to fitness is not just about the skills needed in combat and recovering from combat injuries, but also reducing injuries during training and controlling obesity, an epidemic in the uniformed services as much as in the civilian world.

Read the document and you'll find an approach that is right in line with the best cutting-edge training practices, such as:
  • Optimum fitness involves more than running long distances with a heavy pack. In fact, too much running causes over-training and causes more frequent injuries. Endurance is no more important than mobility, flexibility, and strength.
  • Strength is more than doing lots of push-ups or lifting weights to develop isolated muscle groups. Strength must incorporate functional muscle groups needed to do practical tasks. 
  • All strength training must start with solid development of the core. The lower back is a well-known weak point in the human body it it's not routinely exercised and developed.
  • Training for peak performance also requires jumping (pylometrics) and sprinting. These have big payoffs in strength, speed, and power.
  • For years, the belief was that super active people like soldiers and athletes could eat anything and still thrive. No longer. Top physical performance depends on nutritious foods.
  • There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all fitness. Training must incorporate some general exercises for health and basic fitness, but optimum performance requires additional specific conditioning to perform the specific task.
After Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals, an ex-seal was being interviewed about the training involved. The ex-seal said the training is very demanding, but the people who make it trough don't come our looking like a bulked-up football player. He said they are very strong, but don't look all that different than other people.

I thought about the ex-seal's remark today when the movie "Commando" with Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the screen; for many men pumping iron, his body back then is their goal. Total force fitness is not about how a person looks, but what he or she can do.

I think the military's vision of fitness is to have people with the endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility to run, sprint, crawl, climb, lift, swim, dive, and  jump like the athlete is this video from MovNat: