Muscle Cells Attenuate Effects of Inflammation

Have you ever had one of those situations in life where somebody asks you a question of why something is and you can’t put into words the explanation.

For example, imagine a young toddler asking why is the sky blue?

What would you say? How would you explain it?

It’s something we know to be true but hard to put into words.

The same could be said for the benefits of exercise. We have known for a while that exercise helps with inflammation. But we didn’t know which cell type(s) were involved? And could this help maintain strength?

A research team at Duke University has been looking to answer this question. Specifically they wanted to see how effectively muscle cells would be at warding of chronic inflammation. This is different from acute inflammation that results from a specific episode such as a sprained ankle. When we roll an ankle playing pick up basketball there is an immune response to clear away cellular debris and helps the tissue heal.

Other times inflammation can extend over long periods of time causing damage and weakening tissues i.e. rheumatoid arthritis and sarcopenia. This type of chronic inflammation induces muscle atrophy. Exercise can counter these negative side effects.

The researchers were able to engineer muscle cells in-vitro i.e. in a petri dish. These cells were then exposed to interferon gamma for seven days. We normally see this chemical messenger elevated in muscle cells of those with chronic inflammation.

After the seven day period of exposure to interferon gamma, to induce a situation of chronic inflammation, the researchers then stimulated the muscle cells electrically to make them contract.

What they found was that the muscle cells that exercised i.e. that were electrically stimulated, did not show the effects of chronic inflammation. With long term inflammation, i.e. chronic inflammation, there is atrophy, or loss, of muscle tissue. This did not happen with the muscle cells that were electrically simulated.

What’s even more interesting is that the experiment only involved muscle cells. Typically we might associate health benefits with immune, stem or other type of cell. This is a new discovery of linking the protection from inflammation directly to muscle cells.

And as the images below show, exercise helps prevent the atrophy of muscle that typically is associated with chronic inflammation. If you stay active, particularly with resistance exercise, your muscles won’t get smaller and weaker.

The top L box shows muscle cells (red) in the control condition. In the top R we can see how inflammation changes the structure of the muscle cells. However in the bottom L adding exercise to the mix protects the muscle cells from the damage of inflammation.

We can train for a variety of reasons and this adds another very important reason to make sure we lift weights. This is especially true for those that suffer from inflammatory diseases such as asthma, celiac, diabetes, rheumatoid arthtitis, obesity and more.

Chen, Z., Li, B., Zhan, R. Z., Rao, L., & Bursac, N. (2021). Exercise mimetics and JAK inhibition attenuate IFN-γ–induced wasting in engineered human skeletal muscle. Science Advances7(4), eabd9502.

Go Hard or Go Frequently?

The other night at dinner we asked our five year old the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

She thought about it briefly and then answered confidently saying the egg.

To which we then asked her where the egg came from?

You can imagine the puzzled look on her face and could see the wheels turning in her head. She realized she it was going to be a hard question to answer.

This can be similar to exercise with respect to whether you should do long, slow steady-state exercise or short, high intensity intervals. The last few years have seen a surge in HIIT i.e. high intensity interval training, Tabata and other intense training protocols.

However during COVID we have also seen a number of endurance feats including Everesting, round the world cycling challenges and other long distance endurance challenges.

So which one is it? Should we go hard and short or long and slow?

Well a recent Canadian study looked to answer this question. Here’s what they did.

Twenty three adult, sedentary men were divided into two groups. One group did 30 second sprint intervals on the bike with two minutes rest. They repeated this four to six times and completed this workout three times per week. Over the course of the six study they completed almost one hour of cycling.

The other group rode the bike five times per week for 30-40 minutes at around 60% of their peak power. By the completion of the study this group had logged 15 hours on the bike.

Researchers wanted to know the impact these would have on fitness, body composition and blood pressure.

What they found is that those performing the endurance workouts i.e. 30-40 minutes of cycling saw greater improvements in:

  • diastolic blood pressure
  • abdominal fat
  • postprandial lipid tolerance

Both groups showed improvements in fitness whereas with the sprint group improved endothelial function. With both groups glycemic control was better on exercise versus sedentary days.

So what does this all mean?

Don’t get sucked in to the fad that exercise has to all-out, all the time. There were a number of benefits to performing longer duration cardiovascular exercise. Exercise is great for helping us metabolize carbohydrates and avoid the potential spikes and drops

A few other thoughts that come to mind:

  • This study was all men. Would women show the same results?
  • Endurance training demonstrated many benefits in this study. But they also did 15 times the work. Would the same benefits be seen at 10 times the work? 5 times?
  • All participants were sedentary at the start. How hard were they able to push on the sprints? How would the results differ if active subjects were used? If athletes were used?
  • Time is a huge constraint for many to achieve a fitness and health goal. We shouldn’t discount or over-look the attractiveness of being able to complete training in 1/15th of the time.
  • Ultimately the best training plan may be a combination of high-intensity short duration intervals and lower-intensity longer training sessions.

Citation

Petrick, H. L., King, T. J., Pignanelli, C., Vanderlinde, T. E., Cohen, J. N., Holloway, G. P., & Burr, J. F. (2020). Endurance and Sprint Training Improve Glycemia and VO2peak, but only Frequent Endurance Benefits Blood Pressure and Lipidemia. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

More Frequent, Intense Exercise Is Better

I remember when I was young I had a swim meet on the weekend. But the meet wasn’t due to start until the afternoon. And so I asked my dad if he wanted to go play tennis. And he said no and that I should probably rest before my meet rather than go and play tennis.

And this was probably a good idea. I was able to rest up and focus on my races to come.

But I find it interesting how the frequency and intensity of our exercise changes as we grow up from childhood, through adolescence, into our teens and eventually as adults.

When we were younger we thought nothing of having swim practice in the morning, playing football at recess and lunch, followed by swim practice again in the evening. And if there was time we’d fit in some more time to play with our neighbourhood friends.

Now if most of us do one activity in a day we’re spent for that day and possibly for days after. One client and friend, LM, enjoys going cat and heli skiing. He says that he tends to have to ‘fake sore’ with the rest of the group on the trip regarding his fatigue and DOMS (i.e. muscle soreness). Everyone else is suffering after an intense day of carving powder and so he ‘fakes sore’ in order to fit in.

But how much exercise is enough? And hard should we push ourselves?

A new study out of Oxford tells us that more is better when it comes to exercise. And the benefits were greater with more intense exercise.

Here’s what they did.

Researchers observed the fitness habits of over 90,000 adults, both male and female. And they wanted to see the impact of exercise intensity and frequency on cardiovascular (CV) health. CV disease is the number one cause of death and so it makes sense to see the impact exercise has on it.

Previous studies of this type would involve participants self-reporting their exercise. This can sometimes be flawed as we may over-estimate the duration and intensity of training. To overcome this researchers had the participants wear an accelerometer on their wrist.

What they found is that those getting the most frequent and intense exercise had the greatest reduction in CV risk. Those in the top 25% doing vigorous exercise saw their risk for CV disease lowered by 54-63%. On a scale of 1-10, vigorous exercise would fall at about a 6 or 7 out of 10. Or if you use a heart rate monitor this might be about 70-85% of your maximal heart rate.

And if the exercise wasn’t vigourous there were still great benefits to be had. Exercise at a moderate intensity showed reductions in CV risk factors by 48-57%. So even this group is cutting their CV risk in half. Moderate exercise on a perceived effort scale would be about a 3 out of 10 or 50-70% of your maximal heart rate.

The benefits seen applied to both men and women however the results for women doing vigourous exercise were particularly strong.

As well, those more likely to exercise were also:

  • less likely to smoke
  • more likely to maintain a healthy weight
  • more likely to consume a moderate amount of alcohol

The take home message is that it’s OK to exercise ever day. Think back to when you were a kid or watch a new puppy. Sure they may sleep a lot when first born but after a while they play a lot. And they go all out.

Our risk for CV disease only increases as we age yet we get less of what protects us from this disease. If you are not sure how to get started, or if your exercise is intense enough or would like some help to increase the frequency and intensity of your exercise leave a comment below or stop in to Okanagan Peak Performance Inc.

Ramakrishnan, R., Doherty, A., Smith-Byrne, K., Rahimi, K., Bennett, D., Woodward, M., … & Dwyer, T. (2021). Accelerometer measured physical activity and the incidence of cardiovascular disease: Evidence from the UK Biobank cohort study. PLoS medicine18(1), e1003487.

Spotlight on Derek Retzloff

Hello! How’s it going? It’s Trevor here and I’ve got a great success story to share with you.

This story is about Derek Retzloff, and he has achieved some amazing results over the past 2 months with his training.

Derek rocking his Seahawk Air Jordans.

You know Derek, right? Or better known to you as Derek Scott, the radio guy from SunFM (now Virgin).

He might not look familiar but if you heard his voice on the radio, I’m sure you’d recognize it.  Derek is usually in at 9:30 am Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He has done numerous works for SunFM and other radio businesses for over 20 years. For a person who has had to face numerous challenges throughout life, it makes what he’s achieved even more amazing.

From a young age, Derek was at a physical disadvantage. His so called “condition”, which he’ll describe for you shortly, made certain tasks of daily living challenging. Tasks weren’t necessarily impossible to complete, but hard to be efficient. It might be tough to relate but consider the things you’ve struggled with in your life and eventually overcame. Maybe you broke your leg, tore or pulled a muscle, hurt your back and had to sit out from a sporting event or even had to take time away from work. You were presented with new challenges in your daily life, but eventually you got better and were back to health.

Remember how those challenges made you feel? Even better, how you felt when you accomplished them? Imagine if you had to live with them your whole life and each day there was something to accomplish. Sooner or later you work through those challenges more fluently and now you’re looking for even more ways to challenge yourself. You won’t let anything stop you or get in your way. That’s Derek for you. Each day he accomplishes something in one way or another. He accepts and embraces all obstacles in life as an opportunity for improvement. If anything, it’s all fun and games to him!  

Now, before I continue to ramble on about Derek and what he’s achieved in a short amount of time, I should back up, and have him tell you himself.

Here’s his story.

Trevor: Give us a background on your surgery and how you’ve carried yourself over the course of your life?

Derek: When I was born and throughout most of my young life, my doctors thought I had something called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which affected my legs.  I had many heel cord lengthening surgeries and muscle biopsies to try and figure out what was going on. But when I turned 18 the medical system essentially gave up, and I was left undiagnosed.  The results of these surgeries didn’t really prove or help anything, but back in the 80’s surgery was the answer to everything.  I can remember one visit to the doctor, I was told I could end up paralyzed and could lose the use of my hands.  Thankfully that never happened. 

Even with all of this going on, I was always a happy little guy.  I would have been an easy target for bullies and such at school, but thankfully, I always had a great group of friends who looked out for me. Even a few of the bad kids too. 

When my Dad started seeing a massage therapist, he mentioned my situation to her, and that’s when I started with regular massage therapy. I really started to feel a difference.  I was told that my legs were like two cement poles with no muscle definition at all, but that all changed thanks to her.  My whole medical history was a lot of guessing and tests. When I got older, I figured out that I could change things.  Little things happening in my life that led me to believe that I could do more than I a could.  That’s why I have so much fun at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc. They push me every day to do better and make me feel comfortable while having fun.  Not only do I feel better, but I get to learn how certain exercises work and how they transfer to my everyday life.

Trevor: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face in your life? Could be day-to-day, things that you may have missed out on or really wanted to do.

Derek: Certain things in my life have always been a challenge. I’m now at the point where I don’t even consider them because I’ve come to accept it.  For example, I have a tough time with steps.  I need a handrail to go up a set of steps.  If I want to go to a sporting event or the movie theater, I need to make sure there’s a railing to hold on to, or it’s just not happening.  That could be looked at as a downside, but I choose to look at it as a positive. It means that I can use the disabled section and get a much better seat full of room. 

I’ve always chose to look at the positives and not think negatively about things.  I think that’s just the way I was brought up.  My parents always taught me to be strong, smart, and to always try my best.  I was in casts from the time I was a little guy, but still I was on my bike (two casts on my feet) and sailing over ramps.  When I was in school things were a bit more challenging.  I wanted to play sports with my friends, but obviously it was tough for me.  I still did play, but I couldn’t run or stay on my feet for very long. 

I can remember one time when I was playing on the basketball team in junior high. My coach had me wait at the other end of the court until we had possession.  Once my teammates were close, they would pass it to me.  I tried out for the team and didn’t think I was going to make it.  I was surprised when I did.  Years later, I realized that the coach didn’t want to cut me and let everyone else play. He was trying to be inclusive.  This might seem “okay” to some, but that’s when I realized I wasn’t going to be “that guy” and be made a spectacle of.  

While the game was happening at the other end of the court, people in the stands would be staring at the guy all by himself with the skinny legs. It really made me feel different.  My coach’s intention was to have everyone become a star, and that’s when I realized I didn’t have to be like everyone else.  I quit the team shortly after and felt like I learned a valuable lesson. 

To this day, I know my limits, but that’s all from trying things myself and getting feedback.  Aside from these little things, I really don’t feel much different from anyone else.  At 40 years old, there are plenty of things I don’t want to do anymore, and I’m more than happy with that.  I should mention that I also played competitive wheelchair basketball for many years, and even managed to play for Team Alberta in the Canada Games.  I won a few medals and met a lot of great people. 

I’ve also been involved in the radio industry for over 20 years. I’ve met some of the most popular musicians in the world and have done a lot of very cool things.  My disability had nothing to do with that, that was all me.  That just goes to show that my disability doesn’t define me, it’s just something that adds to the person I am.  I believe that a person can be defined by something and let it defeat them, or you can recognize the challenge, address it and deal with it.

Trevor: Tell us about the huge WIN you had. 

Derek: I have such a great time training with Trevor each day. I told him after one of our first sessions that I felt bulletproof when I walked out of the gym.  I still feel that every day.  Not just at the gym but in everyday life.  Little things, like picking something up or having more stamina when I’m out walking around.  Due to my disability, I pretty much always need to sit down.  I compare it to an hourglass.  From the time I stand up, turn it over, I’m going to need to sit down shortly after.  That’s just something I’ve come to accept. 

Usually, wherever you go, you can find a bench or somewhere to sit down, but with Covid, those benches and seats have been taken away.  I can recall a trip to the mall recently where I walked from my vehicle, all the way to the back of the store, and then had to wait in 2 lineups. I got all the way back to my Jeep and wasn’t tired.  It was something that hadn’t happened to me in a long time.  That’s thanks to Trevor, Chris and everyone at OPP, but also thanks to me.  I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of myself, or that it was easy to do because it wasn’t. 

 I work hard at the gym and I love seeing the results of my hard work.  I also want to mention as a result of the benches disappearing, I bought a walking cane for long periods of standing but have never used it.  If I decided not to take my fitness seriously, change my eating habits, and focus on myself, I’d be worse off.  Aside from my wheelchair basketball successes, I’ve never really considered myself an “athlete”.  I know it’s just a word, but it makes me feel special. 

When I get Chris’ emails calling us athletes and peak performers, it makes me smile.  One of the things I love and respect so much about OPP is that, never for a single second have they made me feel different, or like I couldn’t accomplish something.  Thanks to their extensive knowledge, they’ve set me up with a program that works for me and makes me feel great.  It can be intimidating in other gyms when you have skinny legs, or need assistance from a bar to stand up, but at OPP I’ve never felt that way.  Trevor has been such a great coach in recognizing what I can do and always pushing me to do “one more” or try just a bit more weight.  It makes me feel so good to push a little more, go a little bit faster, or dig deep for that last ounce of energy.  I don’t just feel it, I AM bulletproof!

Trevor: How have you been able to achieve these goals? And what are you looking forward to in the future?

Derek: I can’t say enough great things about Chris, Harry, Trevor, other staff members and OPP in general.  I also know a huge part of it is me.  I’m the one responsible for myself and if I don’t do all the things it takes to make my training effective, that’s on me.  I was that guy who always said, “I don’t want to go to the gym”, or, “yeah one day I might give it a shot”, but that all changed.  As strange as it sounds, I’m almost happy that COVID came. It gave me a lot of time to sit and think about myself and what’s important to me. 

I didn’t eat a lot of fast food, but I did eat more than I probably should have.  I want to get rid of my cheeseburger locker (tummy) but know that it’s going to take a lot of work to do so. Especially in my late 30’s.  I decided that if I was exercising but still eating the bad stuff, my training really wasn’t going to make much of a difference.  Just making little changes here and there, I started to notice some positives. 

I’ve only been at it for about a month and a half, but I’ve already noticed that my biceps are rock hard. I’ve got some muscles on the sides of my tummy that I never had before, and thanks to my trip at the mall, my endurance and stamina has increased big time.  As daily activities become less tiring, it takes longer for that to happen, and I’ll call that a huge win.  As I continue my training, I hope to continue improving my full body strength and stamina, so little things like steps, or tying my shoes aren’t so difficult.  As great as our coaches are, it’s ultimately up to us as athletes to work our hardest and to get the most out of our coaching.  And hey, what investment is better than yourself?!

Thanks.

Trevor: I hope you’ve enjoyed the read so far, and hopefully you have a couple more minutes to listen to what I’m most proud of Derek for. You’re already aware of how hard Derek works and what he’s accomplished with his training. Instead, let me tell you what he does for me and the rest of us at OPP.

From the moment he rolls up in the parking lot, a wave of energy spreads through the facility. He always walks in with a smile from ear to ear and can’t wait to be the first one to say “hello”. He’s a spark. What I mean by that is, his positive attitude and friendliness projects on to the people around him. Whether it’s chatting about football (he is a huge Seahawks fan), hip hop, daily adventures, or his low-key obsession for Jordan shoes, the conversations are endless. Looking back on our first couple weeks together, we didn’t chat as much. It’s kind of funny now, but he was always trying to catch his breath from the previous set. Since that’s gone, there is more time for chit chatter, and don’t get me wrong, when it’s time to work it’s time to work! He continues to improve strength, endurance and competence each week. Keep bringing that A-level effort day in and day out!

All of us at OPP are so proud of what Derek has achieved in such a short amount of time. When you have a moment, take some time to reflect on the things you do everyday. Where can improvements be made? And how can you get the most out of each day?  

Well done Derek! And thanks for sharing.

Training While Injured to Prevent Muscle/Strength Loss

There’s an expression in sports that ‘you play, you pay’. And this refers to getting injured.

You play frequently enough and push yourself enough and you will suffer an injury. It’s not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Most athletes know what I’m talking about and have spent time in an ER, in a sling, on crutches or a wheelchair. I’d have to say being injured is the worst part of sports. Worse than losing.

Because when you’re injured you can’t play. You can’t help your team. And if things aren’t going well it’s even worse. You have to wait it out, go for your rehab appointments and wait for the OK to return to training and competition.

A recently study looked at how training the non-injured side minimized the losses that typically occur to the injured side.

What the researchers did was have 30 subjects, male and female, between 18-34 years, put their non-dominant arm in a sling for 8 hours per day. The elbow was bent to 90 degrees and then immobilized for the 8 hours. The non-dominant arm was determined as the non-writing arm.

All subjects had the non-dominant arm immobilized for 8 hours per day.

The 30 subjects were then assigned to one of three groups. The first group did no exercise, the second did eccentric and concentric exercise and the third group did eccentric only exercise. The tempo for the eccentric and concentric group was 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down. And for the eccentric group the participants took 4 seconds to lower the weight. The exercise performed was a biceps curl over a preacher bent with a dumbbell. For the eccentric only group the researcher grabbed the dumbbell at the bottom of each rep.

Participants did 3-6 sets of 10 reps of dumbbell preacher curls for 4 weeks.

For the next 4 week the subjects performed this exercise 3 times per week with 3-6 sets of 10 reps. For the eccentric and concentric group the loads ranged from 60-90% and for the eccentric group the loads ranged from 80-120%. For both groups the loads increased 10% each week.

The researchers wanted to see the impact this would have on arm circumference, one repetition maximum strength (1 RM), maximal voluntary isometric contraction, rate of force development and joint position sense.

So what did they find?

The group that did no exercise lost the most muscle and in this case they lost 28% of their arm muscle mass. The two exercise groups lost less strength and arm size with the losses being less with the eccentric only group. In fact, the biggest increase in strength was with the eccentric only group and there was only 2% muscle wastage in the immobilized arm.

Besides injured athletes this research is also valuable for those who have suffered a stroke. If you find yourself unable to exercise one limb make sure to continue with the exercise. But don’t just do any type of exercise as in this case eccentric only training did the best job of maintaining strength and minimizing losses.

Valdes, O., Ramirez, C., Perez, F., Garcia‐Vicencio, S., Nosaka, K., & Penailillo, L. (2021). Contralateral effects of eccentric resistance training on immobilized arm. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports31(1), 76-90.

Ways to Get Better in Soccer – Part II

This is a continuation of a blog post of all the things soccer players can be doing to improve on-field performance. For part one of this blog click here.

OK, now to the people that love and care about the players (your kids) the most. 

I know, I’m not a parent, so what do I know? 

I feel I’m pretty schooled in the area of how to look after a youth/high school player. Plus, I was raised by parents who would bend over backwards to make sure my sister & I grew up doing all sorts of sports & outdoor activities. 

During my childhood, I played for a football youth academy team, while also playing basketball (well the English version anyway haha), field hockey, and tennis. Sprinkling in climbing, kayaking, hiking all over the UK, skiing the European Alps, biking, cross country running, and swimming.

Anyway, enough about me, time to ask you some questions… 

How are you helping your football player progress, and get better? 

Do they need a forceful hand on them right now?  Probably not?! It’s been pretty stressful for them; the game is no longer the same as it used to be. Keeping it fun & enjoyable will keep them around football for the long term.

I know you work your tail off for your kids, I see it every day, and I love it! You drop them off at training in the early hours of the morning; you stand on the side lines freezing your butt off… I could go on. 

However, ask yourself, “Is there something more that I can be doing to help my child hit his/her goals, that doesn’t have to be pitch-orientated?”

It could be things like:

  • Helping them research players who they aspire to be like
  • Miss a day of training (yes, I said it) to go skiing, or another activity that they enjoy. 
  • What food are you leaving around your house for them to snack on
  • Getting them to bed earlier than usual. I understand that this could be a challenge for some, but if they want to play at a high level they’re going to have to get used to going to bed earlier.
  • Reduce their screen time
  • Keep a regular sleep pattern – (weekdays, the same as weekends) – type in the circadian rhythm on google, it’s a ‘thing’
  • 8 hours sleep MINIMUM
  • Try not to over evaluate their performance after a training session/match, and stress them out too much. When a player is stressed, it causes the release of certain hormones, which pretty much shuts down the immune system and prevents healing/recovery.
  • Help them with their goals, see where they want to go with football, or just life in general. Some kids know at an extremely early age.
  • Maybe give them a break from football for a couple of months, let them take part in another sport. I don’t think I played football for more than 8 months a year when I was younger. Raising your kid as a multi-sport athlete is always the way to go.

Do you notice sleep comes up several times in there, as it is probably one of the most underutilized, recovery & injury risk reduction tools, plus its free, and I know we all love free stuff.

A recent study showed that athletes who slept on average <8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for ≥8 hours (1). 

There is proof in the pudding when it comes to not being a single sport athlete from a young age too. A study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health which included more than 1,500 high school athletes, found those who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to report a lower extremity injury as compared to those who played multiple sports (2). 

Multiple sports also increase their chances of playing at a higher level, which is what we want for all of them. If they have hopes of playing professional sports, their chances decrease by sticking with a single sport. They should be running, sprinting, cutting, jumping, crawling, climbing, lifting, etc. Learning how their bodies move in all different ways. 

Remember, it doesn’t always have to be pitch-orientated to help them progress towards their goals. Let them enjoy the process of figuring out their role in football, or sport as a whole, and I promise you they will shine!

References

  1. Milewski, M. D., Skaggs, D. L., Bishop, G. A., Pace, J. L., Ibrahim, D. A., Wren, T. A., & Barzdukas, A. (2014). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics34(2), 129-133.
  2. McGuine, T. A., Post, E. G., Hetzel, S. J., Brooks, M. A., Trigsted, S., & Bell, D. R. (2017). A prospective study on the effect of sport specialization on lower extremity injury rates in high school athletes. The American journal of sports medicine45(12), 2706-2712.