Tagged Move

What Are the Purple Dots on Michael Phelps? Cupping Has An Olympic Moment

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Michael Phelps competed in the final of the men’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay during the 2016 Summer Olympics with some strange purple dots on his arm and back.

Michael Phelps competed in the final of the men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay during the 2016 Summer Olympics with some strange purple dots on his arm and back.Credit Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Have you been wondering why swimmer Michael Phelps and other Olympians are sporting deep-purple circles on their limbs and midsections?

While it may look like the athletes have been in a bar fight, the telltale purple dots actually are signs of “cupping,” an ancient Chinese healing practice that is experiencing an Olympic moment.

In cupping, practitioners of the healing technique — or sometimes the athletes themselves — place specialized, round circular cups on the skin. Then they use either heat or an air pump to create suction between the cup and the skin, pulling the skin slightly up and away from the underlying muscles.

The suction typically only lasts for a few minutes, but it’s enough time to cause the capillaries just beneath the surface to rupture, creating the circular, photogenic bruises that have been so visible on Mr. Phelps as well as members of the U.S. men’s gymnastics team. If the bruising effect looks oddly familiar, it’s because it’s the same thing that happens when someone sucks on your neck and leaves a hickey.

Thanks @arschmitty for my cupping today!!! #mpswim #mp @chasekalisz

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:29pm PDT

Physiologically, cupping is thought to draw blood to the affected area, reducing soreness and speeding healing of overworked muscles. Athletes who use it swear by it, saying it keeps them injury free and speeds recovery. Mr. Phelps, whose shoulders were dotted with the purple marks as he powered his 4×100 freestyle relay team to a gold medal Sunday, featured a cupping treatment in a recent Under Armour video. He also posted an Instagram photo showing himself stretched on a table as his teammate, fellow Olympian swimmer Allison Schmitt, placed several pressurized cups along the back of his thighs. “Thanks for my cupping today!” he wrote.

While there’s no question athletes and many coaches and trainers believe in the treatment, there’s not much science to determine whether cupping offers a real physiological benefit or whether the athletes simply are enjoying a placebo effect.

One 2012 study of 61 people with chronic neck pain compared cupping to a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, or P.M.R., during which a patient deliberately tenses his muscles and then focuses on relaxing them. Half the patients used cupping while the other half used P.M.R. Both patient groups reported similar reductions in pain after 12 weeks of treatment. Notably, the patients who had used cupping scored higher on measurements of well-being and felt less pain when pressure was applied to the area. Even so, the researchers noted that more study is needed to determine the potential benefits of cupping.

Another experiment involving 40 patients who suffered from knee arthritis found that people who underwent cupping reported less pain after four months compared to arthritis sufferers in a control group who were not treated. But the cupped group knew they were being treated — it’s not easy to blind people about whether a suction cup is being attached to their leg or not — and so the benefits might have been due primarily to a placebo effect.

Still, a placebo effect can be beneficial, and for athletes at the Olympic level any legal edge, however tenuous, may be worth a few eye-catching bruises.

A few years ago Denver Broncos player DeMarcus Ware posted a photo on Instagram showing his back covered with 19 clear cups as a therapist held a flame used to heat the cup before placing it on the skin. Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have also been photographed with cupping marks on their skin.

Last year, Swimming World magazine noted that some college programs had begun using cupping therapy as well as former Olympian Natalie Coughlin, who has posted a number of photos of herself undergoing the treatment.

U.S. gymnast Alexander Naddour was sporting the purple dots during the men’s qualifying rounds on Saturday in Rio. He told USA Today that he bought a do-it-yourself cupping kit from Amazon. “That’s been the secret that I have had through this year that keeps me healthy,” Mr. Naddour told USA Today. “It’s been better than any money I’ve spent on anything else.”

Running for Your Past and Future Self

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Speed Goggles: Someday

For professional runners, the time before a race is when you think about where you’ve come from and where you’re going.

By JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date August 3, 2016.

Before a big race, I always feel more sensitive than usual. I feel as if I could cry any minute and also never cry again. I feel nervous. I notice the texture of the grass on the warm-up field more than I usually do — I also sense my heartbeat more than on a normal day when I don’t notice it at all. Stray frizzy hairs tickle the back of my neck. I try my best to keep the thoughts positive and productive and inspiring. Or at least distracting in a good way. When I step on the starting line, I will need to be razor-focused and entirely present – more so than any other time in my life. But on the warm-up field, it is perfectly fine — in fact, encouraged — to daydream.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Watch: “The Elite Runner.” | “Normal People” | “Nightmares Mean You Care.” | “Group Run.”

Exercise May Ease Hot Flashes, Provided It’s Vigorous

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Credit Getty Images

Hot flashes are a lamentable part of reaching middle age for many women. While drug treatments may provide relief, two new studies suggest that the right type of exercise might lessen both the frequency and discomfiting severity of hot flashes by changing how the body regulates its internal temperature.

As estrogen levels drop with the onset of menopause, many women become less adept, physiologically, at dealing with changes to internal and external temperatures. The result, famously, is the hot flash (also known as a hot flush), during which women can feel sudden, overwhelming heat and experience copious sweating, a problem that in some cases can linger for years.

Hormone replacement therapy can effectively combat hot flashes, and antidepressants may also help, though drug treatments have well-established side effects. Weight loss also may lessen hot flashes, but losing weight after menopause is difficult.

So researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England and other institutions recently began to consider whether exercise might help.

Endurance exercise, after all, improves the body’s ability to regulate temperature, the scientists knew. Athletes, especially those in strenuous sports like distance running and cycling, start to sweat at a lower body temperature than out-of-shape people. Athletes’ blood vessels also carry more blood to the skin surface to release unwanted heat, even when they aren’t exercising.

If exercise had a similar effect on older, out-of-shape women’s internal thermostats, the scientists speculated, it might also lessen the number or the intensity of their hot flashes.

Previous studies examining exercise as a treatment for hot flashes had shown mixed results, the scientists knew. However, many of those experiments had been short term and involved walking or similarly light exercise, which might be too gentle to cause the physiological changes needed to reduce hot flashes.

So for the two new studies, one of which was published in the Journal of Physiology and the other in Menopause (using the same data to examine different aspects of exercise and hot flashes), the researchers decided to look at the effects of slightly more strenuous workouts.

They first recruited 21 menopausal women who did not currently exercise but did experience hot flashes. According to diaries each woman kept for a week at the start of the study, some women were having 100 or more of them each week.

The scientists also measured each woman’s general health, fitness, blood flow to the brain (which affects heat responses) and, most elaborately, ability to respond to heat stress. For that test, researchers fitted the women with suits that almost completely covered their bodies. The suits contained tubes that could be filled with water. By raising the temperature of the water, the scientists could induce hot flashes — which typically occur if an affected woman’s skin grows hot — and also track her body’s general ability to deal with heat stress.

Fourteen of the women then began an exercise program, while seven, who served as controls, did not. (This was a small pilot study, and the researchers allowed the women to choose whether to exercise or not.)

The sessions, all of them supervised by trainers, at first consisted of 30 minutes of moderate jogging or bicycling three times a week. Gradually, the workouts became longer and more intense, until by the end of four months the women were jogging or pedaling four or five times per week for 45 minutes at a pace that definitely caused them to pant and sweat.

They also, in the last of those 16 weeks, kept another diary of their hot flashes.

Then they returned to the lab to repeat the original tests.

The results showed that the exercisers, unsurprisingly, were considerably more aerobically fit now, while the control group’s fitness was unchanged.

More striking, the women who had exercised showed much better ability to regulate their body heat. When they wore the suit filled with warm water, they began to sweat a little earlier and more heavily than they had before, showing that their bodies could generally dissipate heat better.

But at the same time, during an actual hot flash induced by the hot suit, the exercisers perspired less and showed a lower rise in skin temperature than the control group. Their hot flashes were less intense than those of the women who had not worked out.

Probably best of all from the standpoint of the volunteers who had exercised, they turned out to have experienced far fewer hot flashes near the end of the experiment, according to their diaries, with the average frequency declining by more than 60 percent.

These findings strongly suggest that “improvements in fitness with a regular exercise program will have potential benefits on hot flushes,” said Helen Jones, a professor of exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University, who oversaw the new studies.

Precisely how exercise might change a women’s susceptibility to hot flashes is still not completely clear, although the researchers noted that the women who exercised developed better blood flow to the surface of their skin and to their brains during heat stress. That heightened blood flow most likely aided the operations of portions of the brain that regulate body temperature, Dr. Jones said.

The cautionary subtext of this study, though, is that to be effective against hot flashes, exercise probably needs to be sustained and somewhat strenuous, she said. “A leisurely walk for 30 minutes once a week is not going to have the required impact.”

Speed Goggles: Group Run

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Group Run

Sometimes, your running partners don’t show up.

Publish Date July 28, 2016.

I often make plans to meet companions for a run, but they may not always show up. This could be due to oversleeping, miscommunication or honest forgetfulness. When this happens, there is a rule of thumb among some runners to wait one minute for every five minutes the scheduled run was meant to last. Beyond that, it is considered acceptable to begin the run without the latecomers. Usually the rule is followed without a second thought. However, I find that the closer I am to a big race, the more important companionship is for me.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Watch: “The Elite Runner.” | “Normal People” | “Nightmares Mean You Care.”.

To Boost Memory: Study, Wait, Then Exercise

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Credit Illustration by Renaud Vigourt

Learning requires more than the acquisition of unfamiliar knowledge; that new information or know-how, if it’s to be more than ephemeral, must be consolidated and securely stored in long-term memory.

Mental repetition is one way to do that, of course. But mounting scientific evidence suggests that what we do physically also plays an important role in this process. Sleep, for instance, reinforces memory. And recent experiments show that when mice and rats jog on running wheels after acquiring a new skill, they learn much better than sedentary rodents do. Exercise seems to increase the production of biochemicals in the body and brain related to mental function.

Researchers at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University in the Netherlands and the University of Edinburgh have begun to explore this connection. For a study published this month in Current Biology, 72 healthy adult men and women spent about 40 minutes undergoing a standard test of visual and spatial learning. They observed pictures on a computer screen and then were asked to remember their locations.

Afterward, the subjects all watched nature documentaries. Two-thirds of them also exercised: Half were first put through interval training on exercise bicycles for 35 minutes immediately after completing the test; the others did the same workout four hours after the test.

Two days later, everyone returned to the lab and repeated the original computerized test while an M.R.I. machine scanned their brain activity.

Those who exercised four hours after the test recognized and recreated the picture locations most accurately. Their brain activity was subtly different, too, showing a more consistent pattern of neural activity. The study’s authors suggest that their brains might have been functioning more efficiently because they had learned the patterns so fully. But why delaying exercise for four hours was more effective than an immediate workout remains mysterious. By contrast, rodents do better in many experiments if they work out right after learning.

Eelco van Dongen, the study’s lead author and a former researcher at Radboud University (he is now a policy officer at the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research), hopes that future studies will help determine both the optimal time to exercise and the ideal activity to reinforce learning. Workouts that are too strenuous “could be less positive or even detrimental” to acquiring knowledge, Dr. van Dongen says, while gentle exertions — “a short, slow walk,” he adds — might not prompt enough of an increase in the biochemicals needed to influence how the brain learns.

For now, he says, if you are trying to memorize a PowerPoint narrative or teach yourself macroeconomics, it could be beneficial to exercise a few hours after a study session. “Long-term memory is not only influenced by what happens when you learn new things,” he says, “but also by the processes that take place in the hours and days afterward, when new information is stabilized and integrated in your brain.”

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Being Unfit May Be Almost as Bad for You as Smoking

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Credit Getty Images

Being out of shape could be more harmful to health and longevity than most people expect, according to a new, long-term study of middle-aged men. The study finds that poor physical fitness may be second only to smoking as a risk factor for premature death.

It is not news that aerobic capacity can influence lifespan. Many past epidemiological studies have found that people with low physical fitness tend to be at high risk of premature death. Conversely, people with robust aerobic capacity are likely to have long lives.

But most of those studies followed people for about 10 to 20 years, which is a lengthy period of time for science but nowhere near most of our actual lifespans. Some of those studies also enrolled people who already were elderly or infirm, making it difficult to extrapolate the findings to younger, healthier people.

So for the new study, which was published this week in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and other institutions turned to an impressively large and long-term database of information about Swedish men.

The data set, prosaically named the Study of Men Born in 1913, involved exactly that. In 1963, almost 1,000 healthy 50-year-old men in Gothenburg who had been born in 1913 agreed to be studied for the rest of their lives, in order to help scientists better understand lifetime risks for disease, especially heart disease.

The men completed baseline health testing in 1963, including measures of their blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, and whether they exercised and smoked. Four years later, when the volunteers were 54, some underwent more extensive testing, including an exercise stress test designed to precisely determine their maximum aerobic capacity, or VO2 max. Using the results, the scientists developed a mathematical formula that allowed them to estimate the aerobic capacity of the rest of the participants.

Aerobic capacity is an interesting measure for scientists to study, because it is affected by both genetics and lifestyle. Some portion of our VO2 max is innate; we inherit it from our parents. But much of our endurance capacity is determined by our lifestyle. Being sedentary lowers VO2 max, as does being overweight. Exercise raises it.

Among this group of middle-aged men, aerobic capacities ranged from slight to impressively high, and generally reflected the men’s self-reported exercise habits. Men who said that they seldom worked out tended to have a low VO2 max. (Because VO2 max is more objective than self-reports about exercise, the researchers focused on it.)

To determine what impact fitness might have on lifespan, the scientists grouped the men into three categories: those with low, medium or high aerobic capacity at age 54.

Then they followed the men for almost 50 years. During that time, the surviving volunteers completed follow-up health testing about once each decade. The scientists also tracked deaths among the men, based on a national registry.

Then they compared the risk of relatively early death to a variety of health parameters, particularly each man’s VO2 max, blood pressure, cholesterol profile and history of smoking. (They did not include body weight as a separate measure, because it was indirectly reflected by VO2 max.)

Not surprisingly, smoking had the greatest impact on lifespan. It substantially shortened lives.

But low aerobic capacity wasn’t far behind. The men in the group with the lowest VO2 max had a 21 percent higher risk of dying prematurely than those with middling aerobic capacity, and about a 42 percent higher risk of early death than the men who were the most fit.

Poor fitness turned out to be unhealthier even than high blood pressure or poor cholesterol profiles, the researchers found. Highly fit men with elevated blood pressure or relatively unhealthy cholesterol profiles tended to live longer than out-of-shape men with good blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Of course, this study found links between poor fitness and shortened lifespans. It cannot prove that one caused the other, or explain how VO2 max might affect lifespan. However, the findings raise the possibility, as the scientists speculate, that by strengthening the body, better fitness may lower the risk of a variety of chronic diseases.

This study also involved men — and Swedish men at that. So whether the findings are applicable to other people, particularly women, is uncertain.

But “there is no reason not to think” that the rest of us would also share any beneficial associations between fitness and longevity, said Per Ladenvall, a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, who led the study. Past studies involving women have found such links, he said.

Encouragingly, if you now are concerned about the state of your particular aerobic capacity, you most likely can increase it just by getting up and moving. “Even small amounts of physical activity,” Dr. Ladenvall said, “may have positive effects on fitness.”

For Alexi Pappas, Nightmares Mean You Care

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Nightmares Mean You Care

Ever have a terrible dream the night before a race? Alexi Pappas has.

By JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 20, 2016.

Nightmares are a strange but not uncommon phenomenon for runners the evening before a race. I have had nightmares about running in clown shoes, running in a uniform constructed out of my own hair and running through a track filled entirely with pudding. I have known teammates to dream of running through oceans. But pre-race nightmares should not be feared. Rather, they should rather be embraced as a friendly indication that we care very much about the challenge ahead. Nervous is a cousin to excited.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Watch Part 1: “The Elite Runner.” or Part 2: “Normal People”. Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Lifting Lighter Weights Can Be Just as Effective as Heavy Ones

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Credit Getty Images

Upending conventions about how best to strength train, a new study finds that people who lift relatively light weights can build just as much strength and muscle size as those who grunt through sessions using much heftier weights — if they plan their workouts correctly.

Strength training has long been dominated by the idea that to develop a physique like that of Charles Atlas or even Zac Efron, we — and I include women here — must load our barbells or machines with almost as much weight as we can bear.

In traditional weight training programs, in fact, we are told to first find the heaviest amount of weight that we possibly can lift one time. This is our one-repetition maximum weight. We then use this to shape the rest of the program by lifting 80 to 90 percent of that amount eight to 10 times, until our affected arms or legs shake with fatigue.

This approach to weight training is very effective, says Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who has long studied muscles and exercise. It builds muscle strength and size, possibly, many experts believe, by sparking a surge in the body’s production of testosterone and human growth hormone.

But many people find lifting such heavy weights to be daunting or downright unpleasant, which can discourage them from taking up or continuing with a resistance-training program, Dr. Phillips says.

So in recent years, he and his colleagues have been looking into the effects of a different type of weight training, which employs much lighter weights hefted through as many as 25 repetitions.

Since 2010, his lab has published several studies in which volunteers followed either the traditional regimen using heavy weights or an alternative that employed much slighter weight stacks. In general, the lifters’ results were comparable.

But those studies had been small and featured volunteers who were new to the gym, potentially skewing the outcomes, Dr. Phillips says. Almost everyone who takes up weight training shows significant improvements in strength and muscle size, making it difficult to tease out the impacts of one version of training versus another.

So for the new study, which was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and published this month in the Journal of Applied Physiology, he and his colleagues recruited 49 young men who had been weight training for a year or more. (The scientists plan to study women and older people in future studies.)

All completed tests of strength, fitness, hormone levels and muscular health, then were randomly divided into two groups.

One group was assigned to follow the standard regimen, in which weights were set at between 75 and 90 percent of the man’s one-repetition maximum and the volunteer lifted until he could not lift again, usually after about 10 repetitions.

The other volunteers began the lighter routine. Their weights were set at between 30 and 50 percent of each man’s one-repetition maximum, and he lifted them as many as 25 times, until the muscles were exhausted.

All of the volunteers performed three sets of their various lifts four times per week for 12 weeks.

Then they returned to the lab to have muscle strength, size and health reassessed and their hormone levels re-measured.

The results were unequivocal. There were no significant differences between the two groups. All of the men had gained muscle strength and size, and these gains were almost identical, whether they had lifted heavy or light weights.

Interestingly, the scientists found no connection between changes in the men’s hormone levels and their gains in strength and muscle size. All of the men had more testosterone and human growth hormone flowing through their bodies after the workouts. But the degree of those changes in hormone levels did not correlate with their gains in strength.

Instead, the key to getting stronger for these men, Dr. Phillips and his colleagues decided, was to grow tired. The volunteers in both groups had to attain almost total muscular fatigue in order to increase their muscles’ size and strength.

That finding suggests, Dr. Phillips says, that there is something about the cellular mechanisms jump-started in muscle tissue by exhaustion that enables you to develop arms like the first lady’s.

This data does not prove, though, that one approach to lifting weights is necessarily better than the other, Dr. Phillips says.

“But some people will find it much easier or less intimidating” to lift lighter weights, he says, even though they need to complete more repetitions in order to tire their muscles. They also may experience fewer injuries, he says, although that possibility has not yet been tested.

For now, someone hoping to strengthen his or her muscles should choose a weight that feels tolerable and then lift it repeatedly until the effort of the final lift is at least an eight on a scale of one to 10, Dr. Phillips says. “There should be some discomfort,” he says, “but the dividends on the back side” in terms of stronger, healthier muscles “are enormous.”

The $1,600 Marathon

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Marathon expenses can add up.

Marathon expenses can add up.Credit

In May I ran the New Jersey Marathon. Before I started training for the race on New Year’s Eve, I wondered how much this, my sixth marathon, would cost me. And not just the race fee — I knew that one, since I had signed up for the race in November — but the total of every little thing that I would spend money on to get me from my first training run to race day.

After a deep dive into my personal finances and a talk with a professor of finance, I can tell you that it cost me a lot. Eighteen weeks of training and one marathon cost me more than $1,600. Here’s how I arrived at my number.

Race Fee. The average fee for a marathon ranges from $60 to $100, according to the Road Runners Club of America, though those costs can certainly be higher. I paid $266 – a $255 race fee plus an $11 lottery entry fee – for the New York City Marathon in 2014.

For the 2016 New Jersey Marathon, the base cost at the time I signed up was $100, but I did so on Black Friday, and used a coupon code to save $20, plus a $6.40 service fee.

Cost: $86.40.

Instruction. I used the second edition of the “Hansons Marathon Method,” to train for the race. It included my schedule, plus information on other important things like strength training and race strategy. The book retails for $18.95, though I was sent an advance press copy from the publisher.

Cost: $0.

Gear. Running a lot requires extra stuff to run in. So while I already had shirts and shorts and socks, I still added on while training, including two pairs of shoes, another pair of long winter tights, plus two new pairs of capri tights and two new pairs of shorts, a handful of new shirts, a new tank and visor to wear on race day (though I wound up wearing a hat I already had for the race because of rain), even a pair of ski mittens to wear over my regular running gloves during bitter cold training.

If you’re starting from scratch, this number could be much higher, depending on how geared out you get. I already had a tube of Body Glide anti-chafing lotion. I already had a GPS watch. I already owned the shorts, hat and socks I wore on race day. So my gear costs are much lower than that of someone who’s just starting out.

Cost: $578.80.

Intermediate Races. Racing shorter distances while training for a marathon provides a check-in to see how you’re doing speed-wise (and psychologically) and breaks up the monotony of training. I also use shorter races to test out what I will wear on marathon day to make sure it all works. During this training cycle, I ran two 5Ks and two 10-milers.

Cost: $235.40.

Food. This one surprised me. I expected I’d be eating a lot more (or treating myself a lot more) after my 623 miles of training runs. But what I spent on food during that time, including at the grocery store, on takeout, on meals eaten at restaurants and coffee, came out to be about $80 higher than what I spent during a similar period when I wasn’t training for a marathon. I know that I ate more, but I ate better and spent less on junk food, and ate out a lot less simply because I had less time.

Cost: $79.90.

Running Fuel. While running, my fuel strategy is a simple one: one black cherry Clif Shot Blok every four miles. I had some of these on hand before I started training, but I had to buy more: 10 sleeves at $1.99 per sleeve.

Cost: $19.90.

Ibuprofen. Things hurt. So I bought a two-bottle pack of Kirkland brand ibuprofen from Costco, 500 tablets per bottle. A half bottle is left.

Cost: $7.

Laundry. My water bill didn’t go up during this time, but I did buy more laundry detergent than usual.

Cost: $25.

Gym Membership. I didn’t use the treadmill during this training cycle, but I belong to the gym for access to weight machines and free weights. As I got deeper into my training, I tended to do more strength training at home, but I didn’t stop paying for the gym during my 18 weeks of training.

Cost: $130.50.

Pet Care: I don’t have kids, but I do have a dog, and she needed looking after when I was out running races. Most of the time, friends or family watched Emily, my Jack Russell terrier. A dog walker filled in the gaps when they weren’t available. I needed five walks, at $10 per walk.

Cost: $50.

Sports Massages. Two ways I try to keep my weak spot (my right hip) from knocking me out of training are through strength training and sports massage. Both saved me from a world of hurt and got me to the starting line relatively healthy. Getting several sports massages, at $60 to $75 per massage, was the pricier of those strategies.

Cost: $210.

Opportunity Costs. Training for a marathon takes a lot of time. Those 623 miles, in fact, took me about 114 hours to run — hours that, as a self-employed writer, I could be working. So I could add into this equation the opportunity cost, or “what you could be have been doing with that time and energy instead of doing this,” said Nejat Seyhun, a professor of finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Take those hours, multiply them by what I typically make per hour and, yikes: big opportunity cost.

But, while I’m not paid to run, I do write about running and I’m paid for that work – and the experience has provided fodder for a number of paid stories. Running also makes me a better writer by giving my brain a time out, and I tend to be more efficient in my work when I’m running: I don’t dillydally so much; I just do. In that case, said Dr. Seyhun, my opportunity cost is much lower. “See, you’re thinking like an economist already,” he said when I explained how running is part of my job. Given how much my marathon training experiences have influenced my work, I’m going to put the cost at:

Cost: $0.

Transportation/Lodging. According to Running USA, races that require an overnight trip will typically cost runners $104 in transportation, $147 in airfare, and $213 in lodging. I skipped a lot of that for the New Jersey Marathon, and not just because I ran a race less than a two-hour drive from my house. My dad paid the hotel bill for the marathon, and my mom drove me to and from (because she was running the half-marathon that day). I did pay for some transportation costs to intermediate races during the training cycle, though: $37 for tolls, $58 for gas.

Cost: $95.

Post-Race Celebrations. When I finished the marathon, I wanted nothing more than a hot shower, a beer, and then to shovel food into my face. When I got back to the hotel, I had that beer and handfuls of Utz Party Mix, which I eat only after I run a marathon ($4.50 for a six-pack of Miller Lite pony beers; $10.99 for the tub of Party Mix). Afterward my running group, which included three runners and six people who came to cheer, had a late lunch at Porta in Asbury Park. My portion of the bill, which included pizza, pasta and two Bloody Marys, came to $35.

Later that night, my mom and I drove to the Applebee’s by our hotel, and I spent $23.22 more. The next day, I took a friend out to Han Dynasty in Philadelphia to thank him for coming to the race, and maybe because I was still hungry too: $89.75.

Cost: $163.46.

Total Cost: $1681.36. And worth every penny.

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

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Brooklyn Fencer Seeks Olympic Gold

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Nzingha Prescod, a United States Olympian, practicing at the Fencers Club in Manhattan last month.

Nzingha Prescod, a United States Olympian, practicing at the Fencers Club in Manhattan last month.Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Last month, practice was winding down at the Fencers Club in Manhattan when a group of young students paused to watch a Brooklyn-born Olympian relentlessly attack a padded wall. The athlete, Nzingha Prescod, carried on unfazed, her feet shuffling like a tap dancer’s, her eyes darting behind the mesh of her mask. Ms. Prescod is getting used to the increased scrutiny. This summer, she hopes to become the first African-American fencer to win Olympic gold.

“Obviously I want to medal,” Ms. Prescod said, “but what gets me really excited is the idea of little black girls turning on the TV to see someone like them fencing.”

When Ms. Prescod, 23, first began fencing, historically the province of the white and the aristocratic, she had few models in the sport from similar backgrounds. She and her older sister were raised by a single mother in the upstairs apartment of a two-family home in the Flatlands neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her mother, Marva Prescod, tried to keep the girls out of trouble by packing their schedules from a young age: piano, ballet, gymnastics, karate, swimming.

Her mother dismissed fencing as prohibitively expensive before reading about the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a nonprofit that brings fencing and tutoring to young people from underserved communities. The foundation was established in 1991 byPeter Westbrook, who made history himself in 1984 as the first black fencer to win an Olympic medal.

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Nzingha Prescod, a member of the US Olympic fencing team practices at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street.

Nzingha Prescod, a member of the US Olympic fencing team practices at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street.Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

When Ms. Prescod was 9, she began taking free lessons through the foundation. A year later, she won a national championship for her age group. “Nzingha is exactly the same today as she was at age 9,” her coach, Buckie Leach, said. “Just a fantastic athlete with a lot of smarts and a high fencing I.Q.”

To watch Ms. Prescod compete is to witness a world-class tactician in full force. On the fencing strip, she is like Bobby Fischer behind a chess set, considering each movement two, three, four steps ahead of the next. Though Ms. Prescod is notorious for straying from fencing orthodoxy, she is reliably at her strongest, Mr. Leach said, when attacking from a defensive position, often baiting her opponents into a strike that she deflects and counters.

Her prowess recalls that of the woman who inspired her name, the 17th-century Angolan warrior Queen Nzinga. When the Portuguese tried to expand the slave trade into Central Africa, Queen Nzinga is said to have led the front lines of the resistance.

“I love that history,” said Ms. Prescod, grinning after a recent training session. “It says I’m black and I’m powerful and I’m fighting for my people.”

Indeed, Ms. Prescod will be fighting for her country when she heads to Rio de Janeiro next month. Her ascension in the ranks of the sport has already proven groundbreaking. She made history in 2013 as the first American woman to earn a gold medal for foil at the 2013 Grand Prix, and again in 2015 as the first African-American woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships.

Ms. Prescod finished in 22nd place at her first Olympic Games in 2012 after falling to the five-time World Championship medalist Aida Mohamed. But she was still green then — a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate who had just had her braces removed. Now she has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University and has been training with unyielding tenacity. Indeed, her greatest problem is overworking, said Mr. Leach, who worries about injuries. “I always tell her to cool it, but later I’ll find out she’s been practicing behind my back.”

Mr. Prescod laughed off the barb, but all that lunging has caused a cartilage defect in her right hip that will require a procedure after Rio. Given the physical demands of the sport, she knows that her days competing may not last long past this summer. But regardless of her career’s longevity, Ms. Prescod has extracted some lessons that inform her life outside of fencing.

“Fencing has given me access to this whole other world,” she said. “It’s sad, but if you’re going into a job interview, they don’t want you talking like a girl from Brooklyn — they want you talking like a girl from a fencing club.”

Having conquered the fencing club, Ms. Prescod is eager to share something else with her eponymous warrior-queen: a regal piece of jewelry — something bronze, silver or maybe even gold.

When Runners Don’t Have Real Jobs: A Film Featuring Alexi Pappas

Video

Normal People

Elite runners have vastly different lives than the rest of us.

By JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 14, 2016.

I remember the first time it occurred to me that I was the only one of all my college friends who did not have, by normal standards, a real job.

My friends were going to meetings in office towers or attending lectures in grad school while I was taking naps in an altitude tent and wearing compression socks. This thought occurred to me while stretching on a random high school track. Here I was at 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday as the sound of the school bell rang across the empty fields.

A surge of fear passed through me. What was I doing with my life? A group of teenagers who were ditching class waved at me. I waved back and started my run.

“Speed Goggles” is a five-part series created by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher, who also created the feature film “Tracktown.” Watch Part 1: “The Elite Runner.” Ms. Pappas will be competing in the 2016 Olympics for Greece.

Can Running Make You Smarter?

Photo

Credit Getty Images

To strengthen your mind, you may first want to exert your leg muscles, according to a sophisticated new experiment involving people, mice and monkeys. The study’s results suggest that long-term endurance exercise such as running can alter muscles in ways that then jump-start changes in the brain, helping to fortify learning and memory.

I often have written about the benefits of exercise for the brain and, in particular, how, when lab rodents or other animals exercise, they create extra neurons in their brains, a process known as neurogenesis. These new cells then cluster in portions of the brain critical for thinking and recollection.

Even more telling, other experiments have found that animals living in cages enlivened with colored toys, flavored varieties of water and other enrichments wind up showing greater neurogenesis than animals in drab, standard cages. But animals given access to running wheels, even if they don’t also have all of the toys and other party-cage extras, develop the most new brain cells of all.

These experiments strongly suggest that while mental stimulation is important for brain health, physical stimulation is even more potent.

But so far scientists have not teased out precisely how physical movement remakes the brain, although all agree that the process is bogglingly complex.

Fascinated by that complexity, researchers at the National Institutes of Health recently began to wonder whether some of the necessary steps might be taking place far from the brain itself, and specifically, in the muscles, which are the body part most affected by exercise. Working muscles contract, burn fuel and pump out a wide variety of proteins and other substances.

The N.I.H. researchers suspected that some of those substances migrated from the muscles into the bloodstream and then to the brain, where they most likely contributed to brain health.

But which substances were involved was largely a mystery.

So for the new study, which was published last month in Cell Metabolism, the N.I.H. researchers first isolated muscle cells from mice in petri dishes and doused them with a peptide that affects cell metabolism in ways that mimic aerobic exercise. In effect, they made the cells think that they were running.

Then, using a technique called mass spectrometry, the scientists analyzed the many chemicals that the muscle cells released after their pseudo-workouts, focusing on those few that can cross the blood-brain barrier.

They zeroed in on one substance in particular, a protein called cathepsin B. The protein is known to help sore muscles recover, in part by helping to clear away cellular debris, but it had not previously been considered part of the chain linking exercise to brain health.

To determine whether cathepsin B might, in fact, be involved in brain health, the researchers added a little of the protein to living neurons in other petri dishes. They found that those brain cells started making more proteins related to neurogenesis.

Cathepsin B also proved to be abundant in the bloodstreams of mice, monkeys and people who took up running, the scientists found. In experiments undertaken in collaboration with colleagues in Germany, the researchers had mice run for several weeks, while rhesus monkeys and young men and women took to treadmills for four months, exercising vigorously about three times a week for approximately an hour or sometimes longer.

During that time, the concentrations of cathepsin B in the jogging animals and people steadily rose, the researchers found, and all of the runners began to perform better on various tests of memory and thinking.

Most striking, in the human volunteers, the men and women whose fitness had increased the most — suggesting that they had run particularly intensely — not only had the highest levels of cathepsin B in their blood but also the most-improved test scores.

Finally, because there’s nothing like removing something from the body to underscore how important it may be, the scientists bred mice without the ability to create cathepsin B, including after exercise. The researchers had those mice and other, normal animals run for a week, then taxed their ability to learn and retain information.

After running, the normal mice learned more rapidly than they had before and also held on to those new memories well. But the animals that could not produce cathepsin B learned haltingly and soon forgot their new skills. Running had not helped them to become smarter.

The lesson of these experiments is that our brains appear to function better when they are awash in cathepsin B and we make more cathepsin B when we exercise, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator at the National Institute on Aging at the N.I.H. who oversaw this study.

Of course, increases in cathepsin B explain only part of the benefits of exercise for the brain, she said. She and her colleagues plan to continue looking for other mechanisms in future studies.

They also hope to learn more about how much exercise is necessary to gain brain benefits. The regimen that the human runners followed in this study was “fairly intensive,” she said, but it’s possible that lighter workouts would be almost as effective.

“There is good reason to think,” she said, “that any amount of exercise is going to be better than none” for brain health.

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Ask Well: Exercising on ‘Smog Alert’ Days

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Smog hangs over New York City in 1966.

Smog hangs over New York City in 1966.Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

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Runners on Film: Alexi Pappas Makes More Movies

Video

The Elite Runner

Presenting “Speed Goggles,” a series of short films about runners.

By Video by JEREMY TEICHER on Publish Date July 7, 2016.

Alexi Pappas is a renaissance runner. She writes poems. She makes and stars in movies. She tweets. Even her signature bun has its own Twitter account.

Her latest project, “Speed Goggles,” is a series of short films about runners. The name refers to the way runners sometimes change their opinion about a person or develop a romantic crush once they learn how fast the person runs. (Sort of like the term “beer goggles,” which refers to how we might feel differently about someone after a few pints of beer.)

Ms. Pappas, a Greek-American who will be representing Greece in the Olympics in Rio this summer, made the video series with her partner, the filmmaker Jeremy Teicher. The duo is sharing the full series with New York Times readers each week for the next five weeks. (You can read more about Ms. Pappas in this recent feature story from The Times.)

The first film is a parody of a nature film, with elite runners (Ms. Pappas and the two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating) as the featured creatures. Although Ms. Pappas and Mr. Teicher funded the project themselves, they shot the short films on Super 8 film stock provided by Kodak. I recently spoke with Ms. Pappas about why she made the short series and what filming has in common with racing. Here’s our conversation.

Q.

What are these films about?

A.

We wanted to shoot something that were little slices of the life I’ve been living for the past several years. They’re not tied to one particular event but they reflect the dedication and lifestyle. They are about things that are real and serious but also quirky and funny and very specific to the running world. We wanted to capture that in these little episodes.

Q.

I know Kodak donated some film, but why did you want to use film to shoot these episodes?

A.

Film is so cool. The thing about film is that it’s so freeing. You can’t look at it when you’re shooting it, and it’s expensive to develop so you don’t do multiple takes. There is something liberating, a thrilling scary feeling of shooting on real film. It’s gorgeous and gritty and detailed.

Q.

Why do you think film is suited to running?

A.

The colors are more vibrant than digital, and I felt like it was the best medium to capture running . When you’re running you notice a leaf on the side of the road. It’s not one color green but it’s a million shades of green because of the way the light is hitting it, and the shade and that you’re moving past it quickly. Film captures that.

Q.

Why was it liberating to know you only had one or two takes?

A.

It’s almost like preparing for a race. You prepare as best you can. We wrote the script, we set up what we thought would be the right lighting or place in the woods. We rehearsed. Once the gun goes off in a race – or once you start clicking action and shoot it, you can’t turn around. You just go with it until the clicking stops. It did feel like racing. That level of improvisation and carrying on is liberating as a filmmaker in the same way it might be to a runner in a race.

Q.

What do you want people to get from these films?

A.

I hope people identify with these films in some way and also see a world they may not always see. It’s the life of an elite runner outside the track. I think runners will appreciate the elements of it, and hopefully laugh along with us.

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The Surprising Health Benefits of an Electric Bike

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Credit Getty Images

In the Tour de France, equipping your bike with a small electric motor is called mechanical doping, and is considered cheating. But for the rest of us, an electrified bicycle might be a way to make exercise both tolerable and practical, according to an encouraging new study of bicycle commuting.

Exercise is necessary in our lives, as we all know by now. People who are physically active are much less likely than sedentary people to develop heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, depression, disabilities in old age, or to die prematurely.

But statistics show that, despite its benefits, a majority of us never exercise. When researchers ask why, most people offer the same two excuses — they don’t have time to fit exercise into their lives or they aren’t fit enough to undertake exercise.

Potentially, electric bicycles could address those concerns. Their motors shore up your pedaling as needed—or, with some electric bikes, do the pedaling for you—making climbing hills or riding for long distances less taxing and daunting than the same ride on a standard bicycle.

In the process, they could make cycling a palatable alternative to commuting by car, allowing people with jammed daily schedules to work out while getting to work.

But the value of electric bicycles has so far been mostly notional. Few of us have seen, let alone ridden, an electric bike and there is scant scientific evidence supporting—or refuting—the potential health benefits of using the machines.

So for the new experiment, which was published last month in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, decided to see what would happen if they gave a group of out-of-shape men and women zippy electric bikes and suggested that they begin riding to work.

Notably, the researchers only studied motorized bikes that assist the rider rather than doing all the work for them, like a moped. They used electric bikes that require the rider to pedal in order to receive assistance from the motor.

The researchers wanted to determine whether these bikes — even with the added assistance of a motor — would provide a meaningful workout for people who previously had not been exercising much. They also wanted to see whether such bikes were fundamentally safe, given that they enable even novice riders to achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour or higher. (The Boulder city government partially funded the study as part of an assessment of whether to allow electric bikes on municipal bike paths. Additional funding came from local bike shops and Skratch Labs, a sports nutrition company in Boulder.)

The researchers first brought their 20 sedentary volunteers into the lab to check their body composition, aerobic fitness, blood sugar control, blood pressure and cholesterol profiles. Then they provided each with an electric bicycle, heart rate monitor, GPS device, instructions on the use of all of this equipment, and asked each volunteer to don the monitors and ride his or her new bike to and from work at least three times a week for the next month, spending at least 40 minutes in the saddle on those days.

The volunteers were directed to choose whatever speed and effort felt comfortable for them.

Then the researchers loosed the novice riders onto Boulder’s roads and bike paths.

A month later, the volunteers returned to the lab to repeat the original tests and turn over heart rate and GPS data. All of them had ridden at least the prescribed minimum of 40 minutes three times per week and in fact, according to their monitor data, most had ridden more than required, several about 50 percent more.

The riders also had ridden with some intensity. Their heart rates averaged about 75 percent of each person’s maximum, meaning that even with the motor assist, they were getting a moderate workout, comparable to brisk walking or an easy jog.

But thankfully none had crashed and hurt themselves (or anyone else). In fact, “we found that participants rode at a reasonable average speed of about 12 miles per hour,” said James Peterman, a graduate student at U.C. Boulder who led the study.

Perhaps most important, the riders were healthier and more fit now, with significantly greater aerobic fitness, better blood sugar control, and, as a group, a trend toward less body fat.

They also reported finding the riding to “be a blast,” said William Byrnes, the study’s senior author and director of the university’s Applied Exercise Science Laboratory. “It’s exercise that is fun.”

Several participants have bought electric bikes since the study ended, he said. He also rides an electric bike to and from campus.

Electric bikes are unlikely to be a solution for everyone who is pressed for time or reluctant to exercise, though. The bikes are pricey, typically retailing for thousands of dollars.

They also offer less of a workout than non-motorized bicycles. Mr. Peterman, an accomplished bike racer who placed fifth in the time trial at the United States National Cycling Championships last week admits that motorized bicycles are unlikely to goose the fitness of well-trained athletes.

But for the many other people who currently do not exercise or have never considered bike commuting, there is much to be said for knowing that, if needed, you can get a little help pedaling up that next hill.

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After Bitter Decades, a Wounded Vietnam Veteran Handcycles Back to Hope

Video

Battling P.T.S.D., One Mile at a Time

William Alvarez has struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder since losing his legs during the war in Vietnam. His recent interest in hand cycling has helped him cope.

By ROBIN LINDSAY and NOAH REMNICK on Publish Date July 1, 2016. Photo by Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.

You would be forgiven if, one of these afternoons in Central Park, you failed to notice a cyclist named William Alvarez. He’s easily lost amid the whirl of riders and runners, and of course there is the matter of his considerable velocity, 12.5 miles per hour on average.

When he stops, though, for a drink of water or a red light, a few of his trademarks come into focus. First is the fact that Mr. Alvarez is not riding a bike, but a three-wheeled recumbent handcycle. Next you might notice the trio of flags flapping behind him in the wind: one for the United States, one for the United States Army and one for prisoners of war. And then there is the oversize sack strapped to the rear of his cycle, where he stashes a pair of beige-colored carbon fiber legs.

Though Mr. Alvarez rides with the commitment of a lifelong devotee, this routine once seemed unimaginable. As a soldier during the war in Vietnam, Mr. Alvarez, now 71, lost both his legs in a land mine explosion, an episode that set off decades of severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last year, however, Mr. Alvarez resolved to break the cycle of solitude and torment that had consumed him for half a century. Handcycling, he says, has provided him with a newfound resilience and autonomy. These days he rides at least five times a week, typically 20 to 30 miles a trip, as he trains to compete in the New York City Marathon this fall.

“When I’m riding, it’s like I’m finally free,” he said. “I can forget about all of my problems and just feel the breeze on my face. Nothing else matters.”

Photo

As a young man, Mr. Alvarez had hoped that the United States Army would afford him the sense of purpose and belonging that had eluded him in childhood.

As a young man, Mr. Alvarez had hoped that the United States Army would afford him the sense of purpose and belonging that had eluded him in childhood.Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

As a young man, Mr. Alvarez hoped that the Army would afford him the sense of purpose and belonging that had eluded him in childhood. After his parents divorced when he was 6, he lived in a series of foster homes in the South Bronx, often separated from his three older siblings. “There wasn’t a lot of care, so I just learned to make it on my own,” Mr. Alvarez said.

In 1969, spurred by his anti-Communist convictions and by foster parents who had fought in the Korean War, Mr. Alvarez journeyed to 39 Whitehall Street in Manhattan for his induction. “I felt a sense of responsibility,” he said. “Lots of people went to Canada, but that never crossed my mind.”

In Vietnam, Mr. Alvarez watched countless soldiers lose their lives or their limbs. Early one morning in 1972 he was on patrol with the 101st Airborne Division. As the soldiers passed through the jungle, Mr. Alvarez tripped a land mine.

When he came to hours later, at a MASH unit, a chaplain was hovering above, administering the last rites. Mr. Alvarez somehow survived, but he emerged from the hospital 13 months later to a different world. Support for the war and its veterans had dwindled in the United States, and former soldiers were even under attack. Mr. Alvarez, who used a wheelchair, was disparaged and called a killer. It took him decades, he said, to get the services he needed.

Mr. Alvarez tried to rebuild his life. He married a woman he had known before the war, and they took off across the country, seeking adventure. But the trauma of war haunted him, he said; as he withdrew into depression, his marriage fell apart. One day in California, while riding a Vespa scooter from Santa Cruz to San Jose, he deliberately veered off the side of the road into a ravine. He would try suicide two more times.

“My mind was just going to war with itself,” he said. “Every day was another battle and I couldn’t find joy in anything.”

Mr. Alvarez eventually managed to subdue his suicidal thoughts, but his post-traumatic stress disorder left him reclusive and unable to keep a steady job, he said. For years, fellow veterans urged him to try cycling, insisting on the sport’s therapeutic virtues.

Last May, Mr. Alvarez finally relented at an event in Central Park co-hosted by Achilles International, an organization that runs athletic programs for people with disabilities, and theV.A. Adaptive Sports Program, which is run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He climbed onto the seat of a cycle and set off.

“I said to myself, O.K., this is it,” Mr. Alvarez recalled. “It was fun. Imagine that. I hadn’t felt that emotion in a long time.”

Photo

Handcycling, Mr. Alvarez says, has provided him with a newfound resilience and autonomy.

Handcycling, Mr. Alvarez says, has provided him with a newfound resilience and autonomy.Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Several studies have shown that exercise can help those with PTSD. The endorphins released during intense physical activity, the focus on coordination and the skills gained often serve as an antidote to the depression, sleeplessness, anger and suicidal tendencies associated with the condition.

“We’ve been getting amazing feedback from the veterans,” said Jonathan Glasberg, 49, the coordinator of the Adaptive Sports Program. “There’s the physical component, of course, but people are also just happier.”

More than 200 veterans are currently taking part in the Adaptive Sports Program in New York, which offers golfing in Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, fencing in Chelsea and sailing on the Hudson River. Participation has more than doubled in the last two years alone, Mr. Glasberg said.

In the months since Mr. Alvarez started training, his body has begun to change, he said. He has shed 15 pounds, his hands have calluses and newly formed muscles swell from his shoulders. The most dramatic metamorphosis, though, has taken place in his psyche.

“My whole body chemistry changed,” he said. “Everything started working the way it’s supposed to. I’m more sociable than I was before, not as depressed, and I’ve got a new sense of energy.”

Mr. Alvarez has not banished all of his demons. He still endures streaks of depression, and just the other week he suffered a vivid flashback, he said. Now, though, when he feels the memories closing in, he reaches out to friends or goes out for a ride on his own.

Last month, Mr. Glasberg was pleasantly surprised when he called Mr. Alvarez to check in. “He told me, ‘Sorry I can’t chat, I’m meeting some friends under the Brooklyn Bridge,’” Mr. Glasberg recalled. “I was thinking: Is this really the same guy?”

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Alvarez headed from his apartment on East 22nd Street to a nearby storage unit, where he exchanged his wheelchair for his handcycle, a sleek black model that he tends to with great care. From the storage facility, he often circles the entirety of Manhattan, but on this day he planned to meet up with a group of riders in Central Park. He greeted all warmly but soon peeled away to take the course at a faster pace.

As he steered his way up the sloping hills toward the northern end of the park, Mr. Alvarez began to pant from exhaustion, but he continued to churn away at a steady clip, refusing to succumb to gravity’s tug. Beyond the crest, he knew, he’d be gliding with ease.

Could Environmental Chemicals Shape Our Exercise Habits?

Photo

Credit Getty Images

A disquieting new study finds that mice exposed prenatally to a common chemical found in many cosmetics and personal care products are less likely than other mice to exercise as adults, adding a new wrinkle to the mystery of exercise motivation. Although mice obviously are not people, the findings at least raise the possibility that exposure to environmental toxins before birth might change babies’ physiology in ways that affect their interest in exercise throughout their lives.

By now, we all know that we should work out to improve health and well-being. But a hefty majority of us never manage to exercise and many who do visit the gym do so reluctantly and sporadically.

The question of why some people are so loath to exercise is of pressing interest to exercise scientists. Work and family obligations of course play an outsize role, as do genes. Studies of the genetics of exercise suggest in fact that the will to exercise — or not — is mostly inherited.

But scientists also have begun to wonder about early physical development and whether differences in the environment within a mother’s womb might lead to changes in her baby that affect how much that infant moves around later in life.

A mouse study I wrote about recently suggested, encouragingly, that if a mother exercises during pregnancy, she might increase her offspring’s subsequent interest in working out.

But whether the environment within the womb might reduce a baby’s later desire to exercise has not been much studied.

So for the new study, which will appear next month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists at Texas A&M University in College Station, Tex., decided to look at pregnancy, exercise behavior and phthalates.

Phthalates (THAL-ates) are a class of chemicals used as solvents and fixatives and to make plastic pliable. Found today in a boggling array of everyday products, from food containers to shampoos and perfume, they are virtually ubiquitous in the environment and in our bloodstreams.

They easily cross into a pregnant woman’s womb and accumulate in her offspring. Rather ominously, phthalates are known as endocrine disrupters, meaning that they can change the body’s production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen and, in animal studies, alter the onset of puberty in mouse pups exposed to high levels of the chemicals in utero.

The Texas scientists wondered whether phthalates might also influence how much exposed babies exercised, since varying levels of sex hormones, especially testosterone, are known to change how readily young animals move around.

To find out, they gathered healthy female mice, mated them with healthy males, and then fed half of the pregnant females benzyl butyl phthalate (B.B.P.), a common phthalate. The mice received the B.B.P. at the point in their pregnancies when their babies were rapidly developing organs and sex characteristics, which in human terms, would be near the end of the second trimester.

According to the scientists’ calculations, the exposure for each pup would be slightly higher than the amount that the E.P.A. has determined to be safe for humans.

The rest of the pregnant animals were fed a harmless oil to serve as a control group.

After birth, all of the pups were provided with running wheels and allowed to exercise as much or little as they chose.

The scientists checked the animals’ sex hormone levels at several points during the animals’ lives.

What the researchers found was that by young adulthood and continuing on into the mouse version of late middle age, the exposed animals were not moving much.

In fact, the male mice that had been exposed to B.B.P. in utero ran about 20 percent less during adulthood than the other animals, while the exposed females exercised about 15 percent less.

Interestingly, the exposed animals did not differ much from the other rodents in terms of body composition. They were not significantly fatter. Obesity and any accompanying disability had not discouraged them from exercising, the scientists concluded. They had been sedentary by choice, not necessity.

That choice, however, seems to have been influenced by disruptions in their sex hormones. Checking their data, the researchers found that the male mice exposed to B.B.P. in utero had notably lower levels of testosterone than the other animals in young adulthood, which is also when their running mileage cratered. Those differences lingered into middle age. The exposed females similarly developed during young adulthood low estrogen levels and other reproductive system abnormalities that then produced a profound desire, it seems, to sit for most of the day.

The implication of these findings is that, in mice, “exposure to the endocrine disrupter B.B.P. might affect lifelong physical activity,” said Emily Schmitt, a postdoctoral researcher at Texas A&M who led the new study.

It’s impossible at this point to say whether human babies would be similarly affected, Dr. Schmitt said.

Likewise scientists don’t know whether a father’s exposure to phthalates can affect his unborn offspring or if eating and dousing oneself in phthalates long after birth, including when you are fully grown, might dampen your subsequent enthusiasm for working out, although Dr. Schmitt and her colleagues hope to investigate some of those issues in future studies.

But even with many questions remaining unanswered, “it certainly seems like a good idea to try to avoid endocrine disruptors as much as possible, especially if you are pregnant,” Dr. Schmitt said.

You can find tips for reducing exposure to the chemicals at saferchemicals.org/.

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Dean Karnazes Runs the Silk Road

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Dean Karnazes is planning a 12-day running journey following the ancient Silk Road through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Dean Karnazes is planning a 12-day running journey following the ancient Silk Road through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.Credit

One Wednesday, Dean Karnazes, an American ultramarathon runner, will begin a 12-day, 326-mile run along the Silk Road, part of an ancient trade route through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. He’s doing it as part of the State Department’s sports diplomacy program — and because he really likes to run. Through the years, Mr. Karnazes has run 350 miles straight (with no sleep), completed a 200-mile relay race (by himself), run across Death Valley in the middle of the summer, and run a marathon at the South Pole.

A Long Way to Run

150 miles

Kazakhstan

uzbekISTAN

Almaty

Bishkek

Tashkent

Kyrgyzstan

China

Tajikistan

Recently I caught up with Mr. Karnazes by phone at his home in Marin County, Calif., as he was getting ready to leave for his trip. He told me what interested him in the Silk Road (it was a stranger he met at the San Francisco Marathon), what traditional Greek food he’s taking along on his journey, and why, despite his extraordinary achievements, he’s just a bit worried about this challenge. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation.

Q.

Ten years ago, you ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. What made you decide to go beyond traditional races — and ultras — and do something like this?

A.

The spirit of exploration. I had done hundreds of organized races and loved racing, but I also loved the thrill of conceiving an adventure on my own and seeing whether the impossible was possible.

I wasn’t sure I would be able to run 50 marathons back to back. What it taught me was that the human body is more remarkable than what we realized. If we can just get out of the way of our perceived limitations, we’re really capable of extraordinary things.

Q.

Did completing those 50 marathons change how you approached future long-distance ventures?

A.

There were mornings where I couldn’t even roll out of bed. I thought, “I can’t even step out of bed today, and this is the ninth marathon, and I have to do this 41 more days in a row — how is this possible?” I just committed to doing the best that I could every day.

At the end of 50 days, it was telling that the 50th marathon, which was the New York City Marathon, was the strongest and my fastest of all 50.

Q.

Why do you think your last marathon was your fastest?

A.

I was just so glad to be done with it. With that final marathon, I was able to let it all out and not worry about having to get up the next morning and have to run another marathon. I ran the New York City Marathon in three hours 30 seconds. That’s a pretty respectable marathon time.

Q.

What’s been your favorite epic trek so far?

A.

I’ve run on all seven continents of earth twice now. I’ve run in some of the most remote and exotic places. But my pinnacle achievement was running a 10K with my daughter on her 10th birthday. I didn’t think she was going to make it at five miles, and she said, “Dad, I can do this.” She let out a grunt and started sprinting. To me to see that, I saw her finally as her own person, and I saw resolve in her that I’d never seen before.

Q.

How old is your daughter now? Does she run?

A.

She’s 20. She’s a recreational runner.

Q.

What brought you to the Silk Road?

A.

I was running the 2015 San Francisco Marathon and a guy came up next to me. This happens quite a bit — people recognize me on the course and they come up next to me and we chat. He started explaining to me that he worked for the State Department and was based in Kyrgyzstan. That led to me asking, “Is there running there? Recreational running?”

He went on to disclose that he’d been seeking me out and said, “I’ve got this idea that I want to pitch to you. I want you to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.”

I’m thinking this is just a fantasy, this guy. But his State Department contacts, they put a proposal in front of me. I’m very bad at saying no, and this sounded too good to be true. So I said yes.

Q.

How do you prepare for a trip like this?

A.

If you saw this agenda — when I first looked at it, I thought, “They’re going to kill me.”

I’ve been watching the weather. Uzbekistan is right above Afghanistan. It’s desert. It’s 112 degrees. So I’ve been running in the mid-day heat, which a lot of runners don’t do. Also something runners don’t do: I’ve been purposefully dehydrating myself and running without water to get used to the fact that I’m not going to have consistent support out in some of these more remote areas.

Another thing I’ve been doing is running a lot of mountains, because I’m climbing a path that’s nearly 12,000 feet high. That’s a pretty significant pop. Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon is 236 feet.

I’m sure there are going to be a lot of unforeseen situations. Cell reception there is apparently really spotty. I don’t know what’s going to happen if I get lost out there.

Q.

Tell me about your fueling strategy.

A.

I’m going to take some products that we’re used to seeing. I’ll take some Hammer Nutrition products and some electrolyte powder to mix with water. But I’m going to try to rely mostly on the local foods. For example, in Greece I found this stuff called pasteli. It’s honey and sesame seed. I thought, “Wow, this is better than any gel pack I’ve ever had, and it’s more sustaining.”

Q.

Where will you sleep?

A.

I’m homesteading with families along the way, including staying in a yurt.

Q.

You’re planning to run some 50 miles a day – and also holding clinics and talks, and inviting people to join in along the way. How come?

A.

The three countries I’m visiting are celebrating 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union. The idea is to link these three countries together on this footpath. The power of running — it unites people.

There’s a magic in running. It’s so simple, it’s a commonality we all share as a species. We’re divided by the color of our skin, divided by the God we believe in, socioeconomic level, whatever else, but running’s a great democratizer. The idea is to get people to come out and run along with me, to show together the power of running. That’s the whole idea behind this sports diplomacy program.

Q.

What do you hope to achieve?

A.

It’s a great adventure. I’ve always wanted to see and visit the Silk Road. I’m going to be pushing my body to the limits, and my mind as well. I really like that intensity of staying focused, and the discipline of running great distances and showing up and giving a talk and being coherent and cohesive when you’re about ready to fall over.

Q.

What’s next?

A.

I’m planning on a global expedition to try to run a marathon in every country of the world in a one-year time span. So in 2017 I’m taking off on a global trek.

Q.

What advice do you have for nonprofessional runners who might be trying a similar challenge, like running across America?

A.

You don’t have to go fast. You just have to go. It’s just relentless forward progress. I’ve run across the country a couple times now, one self-supported, one with a crew. Prepare for tremendous highs, and also tremendous, tremendous lows, where you just feel like, “I might not be able to make it. I might not be able to get out of bed this morning.”

Every day, press onward, even if that means walking. The other thing on the flip side is not to lose sight of the adventure itself, to not to be so goal-oriented that all you want to do is just make it. Enjoy the journey.


You can follow Mr. Karnazes’ trip at https://eca.state.gov/ultramarathon. The State Department will be posting updates on Twitter at twitter.com/sportsdiplomacy, and on Instagram at instagram.com/sportsdiplomacy. FitBit, another sponsor of the trip, will be posting updates from Mr. Karnazes’ tracker at twitter.com/fitbit and instagram.com/fitbit

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

How Many Calories We Burn When We Sit, Stand or Walk

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Credit iStock

There are many compelling reasons to get up out of your desk chair and stand more at work. But weight control is probably not one of them, according to a new study that precisely measured how many calories people burn during everyday office activities.

The new study’s results suggest that engaging frequently in one type of activity while at work may help many of us avoid weight gain. But that activity is not standing up.

Most of us sit more than we should, and a majority of our sitting time occurs at work, since many modern professions are sedentary. Many of us spend six or seven hours tied to our desks each day.

These long, uninterrupted periods of physical lethargy have been linked with increased risks for diabetes, heart disease, premature mortality and, not least, weight gain.

In response, many people, including me, have begun to look for ways to break up our sitting time. We download smartphone apps that chirp and tell us to stand up several times every hour. Health-minded supervisors organize walking meetings, in which employees discuss business while hoofing along hallways. And standing desks have become so popular that the satirical website The Onion has poked fun at users, declaring “Standing at Work Can Increase Coworkers’ Disdain Up to 70 Percent.”

Recent studies indicate that measures that get us off our seats can help us better regulate blood sugar and lessen the risks for diabetes and chronic disease. But more to the point, many of us are rising from our chairs in the hopes that sitting less will help keep our waistlines and nether quarters from spreading.

Surprisingly few studies, however, have closely tracked how many additional calories we burn if we stand up or walk around our offices.

So for the new experiment, which was published this month in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers affiliated with the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh rounded up 74 healthy volunteers. Most were in their mid-20s, of normal weight, and with some acquaintance with office life.

These volunteers were randomly assigned to four different groups. One group was asked to sit and type at a computer for 15 minutes and then stand up for 15 minutes, moving around and fidgeting as little as possible.

Another group also sat for 15 minutes, but watched a television screen and didn’t type. Afterward, they immediately moved to a treadmill and walked for 15 minutes at a gentle, strolling pace.

The third group stood up for 15 minutes and then sat down for 15 minutes.

And the final group walked on the treadmills for 15 minutes and then sat.

Throughout, the volunteers wore masks that precisely measured their energy expenditure, which means how many calories they were using.

Unsurprisingly, sitting was not very taxing. The volunteers generally burned about 20 calories during their 15 minutes of sitting, whether they were typing or staring at a television screen.

More unexpected, standing up was barely more demanding. While standing for 15 minutes, the volunteers burned about 2 additional calories compared to when they sat down. It didn’t matter whether they stood up and then sat down or sat down and then stood up. The total caloric expenditure was about the same and was not sizable.

Over all, in fact, the researchers concluded, someone who stood up while working instead of sitting would burn about 8 or 9 extra calories per hour. (Just for comparison, a single cup of coffee with cream and sugar contains around 50 calories.)

But walking was a different matter. When the volunteers walked for 15 minutes, even at a fairly easy pace, they burned about three times as many calories as when they sat or stood. If they walked for an hour, the researchers calculated, they would incinerate about 130 more calories than if they stayed in their chairs or stood up at their desks, an added energy expenditure that might be sufficient, they write, to help people avoid creeping, yearly weight gain.

The upshot of this experiment is that if your goal is to control your weight at work, then “standing up may not be enough,” said Seth Creasy, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh and the lead author of the new study.

You probably need to also incorporate walking into your office routine, he said. Maybe “put the printer at the other end of the hallway, or get up to walk to the water fountain every hour or so” instead of keeping a water bottle at your desk.

“Brief periods of walking can add up to make a big difference” in energy expenditure, he said, while standing barely budges your caloric burn.

Of course, standing up almost certainly has other health benefits apart from weight management, Mr. Creasy said, including better blood sugar control and less back and shoulder pain associated with hunching in a chair all day. So don’t dismantle or abandon your stand-up desk just yet. But don’t expect it to counteract that extra cookie with lunch.

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Talking to Younger Men About Growing Old

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For Robert Goldfarb, 85, resisting the decline of old age goes beyond the treadmill.

For Robert Goldfarb, 85, resisting the decline of old age goes beyond the treadmill.Credit

An electronic display on the treadmill in my local gym reminds me I’m not only running on the machine, but out of time. Its graph comparing changes in the runner’s heart rate to that of peers goes no further than age 70. I’m 85, and find it ominous that the machine presumes that anyone that old shouldn’t be on the thing.

Reminders that I’m now officially one of the old-old appear with greater frequency. Some are subtle, like the treadmill display; others are more jarring, like my daughter’s approaching 60th birthday. Most reminders are well-meaning: a young woman offering her seat on a bus, an airport employee hurrying over with a wheelchair, happily telling me I won’t have to walk to the gate or stand in line. I graciously decline their kindness, struggling not to protest, “But, I’m a competitive runner!” That I feel robust doesn’t matter; the man I see and the man they see are two very different people.

I recently read something the philosopher Montaigne wrote over 400 years ago: “The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it.” His words inspired me to seek a path through old age without surrendering to it or ignoring its reality.

I began by fighting memory lapses. Rather than substituting “whatever” for an elusive word, I now strain to recall that word, even if means asking others to bear with me for a bit. I avoid phrases that suggest the end of things, like “downsizing” or “I no longer do that.” I subscribe to internet memory games. To recapture the excitement I felt in long-ago classrooms, I began rereading books I read in college.

I also decided to reach out to men my age to learn how they navigate through growing old. Like most of the men I began speaking with, I’m a product of the 1950s and its pressure to conform, to avoid risk, to shun anything that marked one as “different.” Many young people then were warned by parents that signing petitions bearing words like “protest” or “progressive” would get them rejected for a job or fired when they grew up. Men in my platoon didn’t embrace when we parted after serving in the Korean War. Closer than brothers, we settled for a handshake, knowing that’s what men did.

Almost immediately, I found conversations with men my age awkward. Attempts I made to discuss aging were met with jokes about the alternative. With few exceptions, those I spoke with regarded feelings as something to be endured, not discussed. It quickly became clear I was free to contemplate growing old, but not with them.

My wife suggested I meet with younger acquaintances to learn if they would talk with me about aging. I did, and found that men just 10 years younger spoke openly about changes in their minds and bodies. No one joked or changed the subject when one of them confided, “My father had Alzheimer’s, and I’m beginning to forget the same things he did,” or, “My firm’s managing partner said I was slowing younger associates and had to retire.”

It puzzled me that they felt so much freer to discuss feelings than men born just a decade earlier. Could it be because they were shaped by the ’60s, rather than the ’50s? Growing up, they protested what we accepted, challenged authority we obeyed, celebrated their individuality while we hoped to be one of the men in a gray flannel suit. They were the “me” generation, defined by Woodstock and rock ‘n’ roll, while my generation found comfort in Eisenhower’s paternal leadership and listening to soothing ballads like George Shearing’s “I’ll Remember April” and Margaret Whiting’s “Moonlight in Vermont.” Separated by a sliver of time, the two decades seem an eternity apart.

As I seek to reinvent myself, questioning what I do out of habit and what I’m not doing that could be liberating, it’s the voices of these younger men that I hear as I run on the treadmill today. That and the voice of Frank Sinatra from the ’50s, crooning a line from “September Song” that captures what I’ve been feeling: “But the days grow short when you reach September.” It’s realizing that I’ve reached November that presses me forward, ignoring the treadmill’s display, hoping I can lead a deeper and fuller life before I run out of time.

Robert W. Goldfarb is a management consultant and author of “What’s Stopping Me From Getting Ahead?”

How Exercise May Help the Brain Grow Stronger

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Credit Getty Images

Physical activity is good for our brains. A wealth of science supports that idea. But precisely how exercise alters and improves the brain remains somewhat mysterious.

A new study with mice fills in one piece of that puzzle. It shows that, in rodents at least, strenuous exercise seems to beneficially change how certain genes work inside the brain. Though the study was in mice, and not people, there are encouraging hints that similar things may be going on inside our own skulls.

For years, scientists have known that the brains of animals and people who regularly exercise are different than the brains of those who are sedentary. Experiments in animals show that, for instance, exercise induces the creation of many new cells in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain essential for memory and learning, and also improves the survival of those fragile, newborn neurons.

Researchers believe that exercise performs these feats at least in part by goosing the body’s production of a substance called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or B.D.N.F., which is a protein that scientists sometimes refer to as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. B.D.N.F. helps neurons to grow and remain vigorous and also strengthens the synapses that connect neurons, allowing the brain to function better. Low levels of B.D.N.F. have been associated with cognitive decline in both people and animals. Exercise increases levels of B.D.N.F. in brain tissue.

But scientists have not understood just what it is about exercise that prompts the brain to start pumping out additional B.D.N.F.

So for the new study, which was published this month in the journal eLIFE, researchers with New York University’s Langone Medical Center and other institutions decided to microscopically examine and reverse engineer the steps that lead to a surge in B.D.N.F. after exercise.

They began by gathering healthy mice. Half of the animals were put into cages that contained running wheels. The others were housed without wheels. For a month, all of the animals were allowed to get on with their lives. Those living with wheels ran often, generally covering several miles a day, since mice like to run. The others remained sedentary.

After four weeks, the scientists looked at brain tissue from the hippocampus of both groups of animals, checking for B.D.N.F. levels. As expected, the levels were much higher in the brains of the runners.

But then, to better understand why the runners had more B.D.N.F., the researchers turned to the particular gene in the animals’ DNA that is known to create B.D.N.F. For some reason, the scientists realized, this gene was more active among the animals that exercised than those that did not.

Using sophisticated testing methods, the scientists soon learned why. In both groups of animals, the B.D.N.F. gene was partially covered with clusters of a particular type of molecule that binds to the gene, though in different amounts.

In the sedentary mice, these molecules swarmed so densely over the gene that they blocked signals that tell the gene to turn on. As a result, the B.D.N.F. genes of the sedentary animals were relatively muted, pumping out little B.D.N.F.

But among the runners, the molecular blockade was much less effective. The molecules couldn’t seem to cover and bind to the entire B.D.N.F. gene. So messages from the body continued to reach the gene and tell it to turn on and produce more B.D.N.F.

Perhaps most remarkably, the researchers also found a particular substance in the runners’ brains that fended off the action of these obstructionist molecules. The runners’ brains contained high levels of ketones, which are a byproduct of the breakdown of fat. During strenuous exercise, the body relies in part on fat for fuel and winds up creating ketones, some of which migrate to the brain. (They are tiny enough to cross the blood-brain barrier.) The brain uses these ketones for fuel when blood sugar levels grow low.

But it appears that ketones also cause the molecules that hinder the B.D.N.F. gene to loosen their grip, as the scientists realized when they experimentally added ketones to brain tissue from some of the mice. Afterward, their B.D.N.F. genes were not blocked by nearly as many of the bothersome molecules, and those genes could get on with the job of making B.D.N.F.

None of this occurred in the brains of the sedentary mice.

“It’s incredible just how pervasive and complex the effects of exercise are on the brain,” said Moses Chao, a professor at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at N.Y.U. who oversaw the study.

Whether the same mechanisms that occur in mice occur in our own brains when we exercise is still unknown. But, Dr. Chao pointed out, like the mice, we have more B.D.N.F. in our bodies after exercise. We also create ketones when we exercise, and those ketones are known to migrate to our brains..

Generally, however, this process requires exerting yourself vigorously for an hour or more, after which time your body, having exhausted its stores of sugar, starts burning stored fat and making ketones.

If an hour or more of intense exercise seems daunting — and it does to me — don’t despair. “We are only starting to understand” the many ways in which exercise of any kind and amount is likely to alter our brains, Dr. Chao said. For now, he says, “it’s a very good idea to just keep moving.”

Ready, Set, Hold That Pose! Have Smartphones Ruined Racing?

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A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.

A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

At a recent 5K in Boston, I got off to an aggravatingly sluggish start. I couldn’t get going, not really, because runners around me took pictures and videos of themselves beginning the race. Then I nearly barreled into a runner who came to a dead stop to take a picture of the pros who had started the race waves ahead of us as they came across the finish. When I reached the point in the race that crosses over the finish line to the Boston Marathon, where an announcer repeated loudly over and over that runners should not stop to take selfies, two runners just ahead of me did anyway, mucking up the path of the runners behind them. I snapped and yelled, loudly, “Just run!”

I’ve been running for 10 years, and there have always been inconsiderate racers who do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want. But with the advent of smartphones, such incidents have blossomed.

Smartphones can be powerful running tools: They track your progress and location, play your music and podcasts, and can serve as a safety device in case you get lost or need assistance. Race officials have also created apps to keep runners up to date with what’s going on during race weekend or, in the case of an emergency, during the race itself.

But smartphones have also become social media spouts for runners to take selfies, FaceTime a family member on a crowded course, or chat on the phone in the middle of a race, oblivious to the people behind and around them.

According to Running USA, a nonprofit group that tracks data and trends on running, 61 percent of runners regularly run with a cellphone, most commonly to play music, track mileage and workouts, map routes and use GPS features. The group found that millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to run with their cellphones, and also most likely to use social media channels to share running-related activities.

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Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.

Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

“Tech is just such an important part of sport in general, whether it’s nutrition, training information, event information, fitness tracking — there’s so many uses or applications for technology now,” said Rich Harshbarger, the chief executive of Running USA.

While he knows that this can cause some friction in races, he sees social media as having helped the sport. “It has made the sport more accessible, less intimidating, and I think it encourages participation,” he said. That finish line photo, or sharing a training run on Twitter, can help runners find others who are doing similar events, and encourage them to train or run a race together. Seeing people just like you doing this thing they love can also inspire you to try it too.

While race directors are embracing the technology to enhance their events, they are also coming up with creative ways to deal with the downside of smartphones.

Many runners elect to take on the grueling hills of the Big Sur International Marathon because of its breathtaking views along the coast of California. The marathon’s race director, Doug Thurston, knows that most will be taking pictures during the race.

“I don’t think you could ever” ban runners from taking photos, he said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.” He just wants runners to do so safely, and to be considerate of others on the course.

The Big Sur marathon’s safety rules specifically ask runners to move “to the far left side of the road or the dirt shoulder before taking pictures.” The course also has designed mile markers with ample space around them where people can stop to take pictures.

“We have iconic images on our course, and that’s what we’re known for,” Mr. Thurston said. “We encourage people to document and catalog their experiences. But we encourage them to do it safely, with minimal effects to other participants.”

In 2014, after a series of much publicized incidents, including one woman who ran the New York City Half Marathon snapping selfies at every mile with a different man in the background of each picture, the New York Road Runners added a section to their code of conduct under the label “Mobile Devices” that says using smartphones for pictures and social media updates during any of their races is “strongly discouraged, as it decreases your awareness of other participants around you.” They have also banned selfie sticks entirely from races.

“It’s part of the changing landscape of what’s going on here and in the world. It’s an evolution,” said Peter Ciaccia, president of events for the New York Road Runners and race director of the New York City Marathon. “We don’t want to be the run police. We want everybody to come out and have a good time, and the message we keep driving home is that everyone should be respectful of each other and be aware of what’s going on around them.”

Mr. Harshbarger of Running USA, who spends a lot of time in airports while traveling for his job, points out that the problem isn’t limited to races. If “someone is walking in the middle of the airport terminal texting and weaving all over, I want to ask, ‘Can you just get out of the way, because I have a connection?’”

Or, as I might yell, “Just move!”

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

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Meet the Ultra-Fat, Super-Cushioned Running Shoe

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Credit Hoka One One

Can fat-soled shoes that appear to have been constructed in part from marshmallows help you run better? The first study of a new kind of thickly cushioned running shoe suggests that this type of footwear may not make running any easier. But it probably also will not make it harder. And nobody knows yet whether these maximalist running shoes, as they’re called, are the answer to preventing the painful injuries that sideline as many as 90 percent of runners at some point.

Anyone who hangs out with distance runners has doubtless noticed the sudden popularity of these shoes, which provide two or three times as much foam padding between the foot and the pavement as most running shoes. The voluptuous Hoka One One shoes are perhaps the most recognizable of the new maximalist footwear, but almost every athletic shoe company offers models now with similarly extreme padding.

Maximalist shoes would seem to be a fervent reaction to and rebuke of the other recent fad in running-related footwear, which consisted of minimalist or barefoot-style shoes that provide little if any cushioning.

But according to John Mercer, a professor of biomechanics at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, and senior author of the new study, both types of footwear were developed in response to the same concern: the desire to prevent running injuries.

Many hoped that barefoot-style shoes, by removing most padding, would change how people run in beneficial ways. Researchers had noted that people who grow up running barefoot (which means, mostly, young Kenyan runners) typically strike the ground near the middle or front of their foot and tend to have relatively few injuries. Perhaps, the researchers speculated, that style of running would result in fewer injuries for the rest of us.

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The Clifton 2 is a thick-soled running shoe made by Hoka One One.

The Clifton 2 is a thick-soled running shoe made by Hoka One One.Credit Hoka One One

So some runners began wearing flat, minimalist shoes that mimic running barefoot.

But the results were not altogether salutary. No agency collects data about running injuries, but anecdotal reports suggest that quite a few barefoot-style runners wound up getting hurt, in part because their feet and legs were unused to the new patterns of pounding that occur when shoes provide little or no cushioning.

Human nature being what it is, people then turned to shoes with far more cushioning than had been used in running shoes before.

“I first saw these extremely cushioned shoes being worn by ultra-runners and trail runners” covering long distances, Dr. Mercer said. More recently, less intense runners have begun wearing the maximalist shoes, he said.

These shoes promise plush comfort without a decrease in athletic performance, Dr. Mercer said. Rather surprising (to me), most maximalist shoes weigh about the same as thinner models, Dr. Mercer said, because the foam used for cushioning has a cotton-candy airiness.

However, these shoes are still so new that scientists had not yet examined their effects on how people run.

So for the new study, which was presented last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Boston, Dr. Mercer and his colleagues asked 10 experienced runners to eschew their usual shoes for a few days.

At the university’s human performance lab, the runners donned alternately an average pair of running shoes and a pair of maximally cushioned shoes. They ran in each type of shoe at three different speeds and two different inclines on a treadmill, while wearing a mask that measured precisely how much oxygen the runner was taking in. Each run lasted eight to 10 minutes.

If shoes make it more or less difficult to run, Dr. Mercer said, the amount of oxygen that a runner wearing those shoes breathes in should commensurately rise or fall.

As expected, the runners all gasped in far more oxygen when they ran at higher speeds and increased slopes. But their footwear did not affect their oxygen intake. The runners required about the same amount of oxygen at the various paces and inclines whether they wore super-fat or average shoes.

In other words, the maximalist shoes did not make running more tiring. But they also did not make it easier.

The results might encourage some comfort-loving runners, like me, to consider trying the fat-soled shoes.

But this study was quite small-scale and did not address the pressing issue of injuries. No one knows at this point whether wearing maximalist shoes will keep people from getting hurt, Dr. Mercer said. The shoes might, for example, turn out to contribute to certain injuries if their added height makes runners less stable or less able to feel and respond to changes in the ground beneath them.

Dr. Mercer and his colleagues hope to study injury patterns from these shoes in the future.

For now, the broader import of the study’s findings could be that shoes may matter less for running ease than many of us might expect. So if you like your current shoes, stick with them. If, however, you do wish to try maximally — or minimally — cushioned shoes, visit your local running specialty store and wear a pair for a jog around the block to judge whether you enjoy how they feel.

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After a Fire, Jump-Starting a Bushwick Dojo

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Hommy Peña had just returned to his home in Glendale, Queens, late one night in March when he received a panicked call.

“You need to get here right away,” Mr. Peña, 43, recalled being told by the superintendent of the building that housed his small business. “Everything is on fire.”

For five years, Mr. Peña had operated Kanku-Dai Zanshin Dojo, a karate school, on DeKalb Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a modest space that shared the first floor of a wooden rowhouse with a storefront church, but he toiled to make it a community center. Every afternoon, Kanku-Dai was overrun with dozens of neighborhood children, nearly all from working-class Latino families.

Mr. Peña arrived that night to a horrific scene: Electrical combustion that had begun in the rear of the church built to a six-alarm blaze, tearing through five buildings on the block. It took over three hours for more than 200 firefighters to get it under control.

Mr. Peña watched as the flames swallowed his business. “I thought I was in a nightmare,” he said. “Karate is my life, and the dojo was the heart of it.”

Mr. Peña first learned karate as a child to fend off schoolyard bullies. For hours each day, he trained on the sidewalks of his native Santiago, in the Dominican Republic. Martial arts instilled in Mr. Peña a sense of conviction, he said, enabling him to ward off his tormentors and earn some titles.

He continued practicing through adolescence, but when his father died, he largely set karate aside. At a loss for what to do next, Mr. Peña moved to New York.

In the city he found a job at a health insurance company and started a family. Karate became a savored indulgence, squeezed in between work and child rearing. That changed when a friend asked Mr. Peña to oversee an after-school karate program at a church in Bushwick.

“I saw these Hispanic kids all bruised up from practicing on the marble floor and it broke my heart,” he said. “They wanted something better, just like I once did.”

Within months, the number of children studying with Mr. Peña expanded to about 80 from 10, so he moved the program to a more comfortable space on DeKalb Avenue. There, he developed a reputation as a neighborhood mentor, doling out wisdom along with foot sweeps and roundhouse blocks.

“Karate is about discipline and focus,” Mr. Peña said. “These kids have to know self-defense for their own security and confidence.”

The dojo became a refuge for local children and a godsend for their working parents, many of whom could not afford child care. Mr. Peña provided free robes and tried to keep prices down, sometimes entirely waiving fees for families unable to make the $70 monthly payment.

“My kids used to waste hours after school playing video games because I didn’t want them outside alone,” said Laura Jimenez, a cashier who has been bringing her children, Yoskar and Natalie, to Kanku-Dai for two years. “Here, they’ve learned so much about listening and respect.”

When the dojo caught fire, Ms. Jimenez and her children watched on the news in tears. They hardly understood the extent of the destruction: Mr. Peña had no fire insurance, and inside the dojo was expensive training equipment along with $7,000 in cash, all incinerated.

Before the flames even subsided, discussions in the community had begun about how to help. Green Fitness Studio, on nearby Varet Street, offered the group space for about six weeks, while Mr. Peña scoured the area for vacancies. He found one on Central Avenue — a 2,500-square-foot property that allowed for expanded class sizes. The rental deposit nearly wiped out his savings, Mr. Peña said, but he paid it with the help of an online fund-raising campaign.

Most of the equipment came from donations: mats from a dojo in Yonkers; décor from a sensei in Weehawken, N.J.; punching bags from a local supplier; American and Japanese flags from a printing company. Students and their parents gave the walls a fresh coat of paint. In May, Kanku-Dai was open for business once again.

On a recent afternoon, the dojo was teeming with young martial artists preparing for a belt test. In the closest thing to unison that schoolchildren can muster, the class of 30 mirrored Mr. Peña’s gestures, calling out each move in Japanese.

“Before the dojo, lots of these kids were running around after school with no guidance,” said Xiomara Contreras, watching her son, Emilio, 5. “Hommy gives them a role model.”

Before he started attending classes, Emilio was shy and lacked confidence, Ms. Contreras said, but that seems to have changed.

“One day,” Emilio said, glancing at Mr. Peña, “I’m going to be a black belt.”

EMAIL: fitcity@nytimes.com

The Kanku-Dai Zanshin Dojo is at 124 Central Avenue, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. For more information: 718-559-9349; kankudaidojo.org.

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