Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exercise can't counter the effects of sitting at your desk

The New York Times reports that a recent study correlated long hours spend sitting down—at a desk, in a car, and on the couch—with the increased risk of heart disease in men.
Men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. 
Hey, no big surprise.

But what was truly disturbing was that some of the men who spent long hours sitting also engaged in a regular exercise program. But it didn't reduce their risk of heart disease.

The problem, researchers suspect, may be our bodies are built to spent our days engaged in light exercise—strolling around, doing household chores, even standing up and walking around in the course of sales work. It appears that we weren't built to sit, and sit, and sit.

At a biological level, the problem seems to be that lack of muscle contractions causes our bodies to become insulin resistant and to accumulate higher levels of fatty acids.

"Your muscles, unused for hours at a time, change in subtle fashion, and as a result, your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases can rise," the study concludes.

I'd be curious to see these data parsed by factors like BMI, muscle/fat ratios, cholesterol levels, etc. Were the regular exercisers healthier by those criteria and still equally likely to have heart disease?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Now we're cooking

 A year or so ago I decided I wanted to make a Southern-style coconut cake, like the one my friend Roger's aunt made when we visited Norfolk many years ago.
I discovered that the ultimate recipe for coconut cake is in a book called Cookwise, which was not particularly easy to obtain at the time. I eventually got the book, looked up the recipe, and nearly went into shock when I read the recipe. It is not a low-calorie, or even moderate-calorie, cake.

The book is about making food wonderful, from selecting the right ingredients to using the right techniques. I used it this week to make ice cream and learned several things that elevated a decent ice cream recipe to an amazing ice cream recipe, including:

• Why you heat milk or half-and-half for ice cream (but not the cream itself).

• Why all ice cream recipes need a little bit of salt.

• Why your ice cream mix needs to cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before you put it into the ice cream maker.

Cookwise was written by Shirley O. Corriher, an expert on the chemistry of cooking. I'm now using it on a regular basis. I think there are several types of cooks it would appeal to, among them beginners who are curious about why things work and experienced, confident cooks who want to tackle trickier dishes that rely on technique.

This is not a book to choose for the recipes (many of them are high-calorie). And it's not a good cookbook for someone who wants to blindly follow detailed, step-by-step instructions. It's more advice on which to base your cooking decisions.

Cookwise is a marvelous antidote to the dumbed-down, "anybody can cook this!" cookbooks that direct you to over cook meats (so you won't under cook them) and omit interesting ingredients and flavorings because they might be intimidating.

Not-so-hot yoga

I just spent four weeks taking the introductory series of classes at a yoga studio that does semi-hot (88 degree) yoga. I liked the yoga routines, but I didn't like the heat.

How hot was it? The room was not just hot, it was humid. Sweat poured off me and formed puddles around my mat. You have to put a special thin towel ($90) on your mat to keep from sliding around like a tobogganing penguin. (Fortunately, I found one of the towels at a yard sale.)

I'm used to leaving a Vinyasa or Ashtanga workout feeling energized. Leaving these classes I felt wrung out and dazed. By the time I'd gotten home and pealed off my sodden clothing and taken a bath, I didn't have energy for anything -- except crawling into bed. (By the way, I was careful to get myself well hydrated before going to the classes.)

This is all is too bad, because I liked the people, the studio is near my house, and the early evening class times worked well for me. I suspect there isn't anything wrong with hot yoga for most folks, but it just wasn't a good match for me.

Oh well. There are mid-day yoga classes at the Ballard Health club — not as good a fit with my schedule, but the best choice for this summer.