Friday, March 8, 2019

Circadian Rhythm of Life and How to Enhance It

The weekend marks another spring forward time change.  Setting the clocks forward often means a loss of an hour of sleep for many people.  The reason many people have a hard time with time changes is because our bodies naturally adopt a certain ebb and flow to the sleep/wake cycle.  We can essentially train our self to fit our lifestyle.  This can be good and bad.

The good.  Humans greatest physical attribute is perhaps its ability to adapt to its environment.  Cold, hot, sea level, mountain living, city, country, much like a coyote, humans will figure it out and thrive. 

The bad.  We are so good at manipulating our environment to survive, we have altered our natural rhythms of life that we have built into our cell biology.  We are finding this to have some serious health consequences.  

First, some science.  Chronobiology is the study of circadian rhythms.  Humans have built in biological clocks (an innate timing device) in every tissue and every organ.   Biological clocks produce and control circadian rhythms.  There is a master switch in the brain that is composed of 20,000 neurons called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that controls the biological clocks.  This resides in the hypothalamus and receives input through the eyes.  This is an important distinction as this will show the significance and power of light.  

Light has the ability to turn on and off genes that control biological clocks.  Because of this powerful impact light has,  it becomes very important how much we get and when we get it.  To jump start a day, let sunlight hit your eyes.  Sunlight has blue light.  It creates a power trigger for alertness.  Equally important as the sun sets, eliminate or diminish all blue light to allow the body to start producing melatonin (sleepiness hormone).  This also coincides with a slight reduction in body temperature.   Staring at a computer or cell phone is just triggering the biological clocks that it still daytime.  In the absence of light, humans are still wired for around a 24 hours of sleep/wake.  Light just influences how we go about regulating other circadian rhythms in the body.  

Our natural circadian rhythm is built around a 24 hour cycle(day).  There are also other parts of our biology that have circadian rhythms in it.  One of the most important is cell metabolism or energy.  Every cell has an organelle called mitochondria in it.  Mitochondria are the power houses of energy production.  They have a fusion/fission pattern.  If this is disrupted, energy production is compromised.  This pattern is linked with circadian rhythm of the body.  How and when energy is produced is in direct relationship to the health of your rhythm.  Disrupt your circadian rhythms and disrupt your mitochondrial ability to produce energy. 

Performance can even be potentially thought of as having a rhythm.  It has been speculated that peak alertness is around 10am.  Coordination around 2pm and peak cardiovascular and strength around 5pm.  I have heard these numbers thrown around before but couldn't find much on the origins.  Peak body low temperature is around 4am and peak body high temperature is around 7pm.  Perhaps they were able to coordinate it with this.  I for one have never felt strong in the morning when lifting weights.

Other organs also operate with a circadian rhythm.  The liver is a prime example.  Liver enzymes that help to convert calories to energy are stopped being produced at night.  It is producing enzymes to store energy. To take in a large meal before sleeping then disrupts this natural rhythm.  Like light, food then becomes a powerful environmental trigger for supporting the natural circadian rhythm.  This is becoming known as time restricted feeding.  There have been many health benefits shown for creating a smaller window for eating.  Instead of 16 hours of eating, trying to get to 10-12 and even 8 hours.  For myself, I've been trying to do 10-12 as this allows me to still support biking/lifting and a social life.  

Skeletal muscle makes up 40% of all tissues in our bodies.  It also contains biological clocks that influence circadian rhythm.  The last decade has brought lots of research on studying how exercise influences this rhythm and whether there truly is an optimal time of day for exercise.  There have been many studies of mice that show that exercise influences and enhance the health of the biological clocks, but to date no consensus has been shown at what time or what is "best."  Most studies have been done with endurance activities, but resistance exercises have also shown to have an impact on the genes and gene expression of the biological clocks.  

As humans we have built in rhythms.  These rhythms drive almost all aspects of our physiology.  Because we are so amazingly adaptable, we can fight against these natural rhythms for years, perhaps decades, before any "wear and tear" or signs of distress show.  There is a difference between adequate and optimal though.  Science is in agreement, for optimal health, the circadian rhythm must be respected and nourished.  

The 3 most powerful tools we control are LIGHT, FOOD and EXERCISE.  Establish routines for all three.  There will be arguing over the minutia, don't let this paralyze you.  Get 7-9 hours.  Eat in a certain window of time consistently.  Try to exercise everyday around the same time when possible.  Following these three principles will give perhaps the best foundation for a healthier lifestyle.    

Friday, February 1, 2019

7 Ways To Train Your Grip

Since the earliest strongman days, feats of grip strength have often been demonstrated.  Lifting weird or unstable objects have been synonymous with strength.  Many sports, from rock climbing to wrestling, rowing to Jiu-Jitsu,  require extraordinary grip strength to be successful.   Not only is grip a requirement for sports, it has a very high correlation with health and lifespan.  Grip strength continues to show a high correlation with low cardiovascular risk and longer lifespan.  Improvements in grip strength have been shown to decrease Blood Pressure by up to 10-15 units of measurement.  This was studied after early fighter pilots were passing out at higher speeds.  Pilots that gripped the joystick with an intense squeeze stayed conscious.  This act kept the blood flow to the brain adequate.

 Quite often in certain lifts, it is the grip that gives out first.  A secure grips gives the brain/body positive feedback that allows more power to be generated.  The grip is neurologically tied to the rotator cuff muscles.  Often the first thing I will do with a patient or athlete with a rotator cuff injury is to find safe ways to train the grip.

JL Holdsworth owner of Spot Athletics in Columbus OH did a great presentation at the 2018 SWIS in Toronto on training grip.  He outlined 7 ways to train it.  JL is wold champion power lifter and also competed at the highest level in grip competitions.  I was fortunate enough to meet him at a RPR seminar a few years ago and he did an excellent job presenting then as well.

7 Grip Training Methods

1.  Support.  This is your classic hold in hands for time.  Your classic deadlift or farmers carry is a good example.

2.  Crush.  The handshake.  Captains of Crush is a common tool.  The fingers are the movers and the thumb is support.

3.  Pinch.  Holding two 10lb weight plates together and not letting them fall apart.

4.  Friction.  This is something that can slide through your hands.  Climbing a rope.  Doing pull ups with a towel.

5.  Clamping/Crimping.  This is done almost exclusively with the fingers applying pressure into the palms.  Think rock climbing on small crimps and jersey tackling in football.

6. Forearms.  Flexion and Extension as well as pronation and supination.  The old school wrist roller held at arms length.  Holding a dumbbell and doing pronation and supination around the elbow joint.

7.  Wrist.  Ulnar and Radial deviation.  The wrist is the only thing moving.  A common way is to use a hammer and control the uneven weighted object into radial and ulnar movements.

Grip Training is not often scene in many strength programs.  As you can see there are several styles of grip training and each style has to numerous of examples to list.  But, what can't be overstated is the health impacts developing a strong grip can have and also its importance in sports.  For these reasons, grip should be given a higher level of importance then it usually is given.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Growing Focus by Eliminating Multitasking

To improve anything in life requires first and foremost focus.  Focus is the ability to block out all distractions and keep a singular target for the goal at hand.

"Keep the goal, the goal."  Dan John

In todays day and age, it almost has become a bragging right to talk about all the things you got done at once.  I listened to this podcast, returned emails, played with my kid and ate my breakfast.  It's similar to having pride in how little sleep you get.  

We carry around these tiny super computers that bring dings and vibrations when anyone in the world makes a comment or a like to a post or a photo.  We get included into group chats.  We get texts that are expected to be answered within a few minutes.  From this, it is very easy for a quick check to become a lost 5 minutes...15 minutes.  

But times they are a changin'. 

Multitasking has been shown to be pretty much a sugar coated way of saying I'm ok with doing sub par work in a few areas of my life.  There has been shown to be a noticeable loss of seconds when we switch tasks.  Perhaps talking on the phone and doing dishes may not be that big of deal (or is it, I'll come back to this) but driving and talking is. 

They have now shown that driving while texting is the equivalent of driving with 3x the legal alcohol limit.  Doing two cognitive tasks at once is impossible for the human brain.  In fact, there have been some research that even suggests that it is decreasing the brain volume size when we multitask a lot. 

Outside of the dangers of obviously driving or doing anything with machinery, I think the true cost of  multi tasking is that we are training ourselves to get distracted.   Habits are being formed.  A life is being adjusted and created.  We are what we allow ourselves to become, good or bad.  

People understand training.  If you want to get stronger, run longer, move faster, you have to train your body and it will happen.   The whole body will respond to different stimuli.  No gravity and your bones will become brittle.  Don't move your hips, you get immobile.  Ride your bike everyday, your aerobic system will improve.  Practice sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day every day for years and it will get good at sitting.  The body is magical this way.  It becomes what you do.  It gets good at what we repeatedly do.

Multitasking is training the brain to get slower, to perform less, to accept a different level of "good."  It's training your brain to be easily distracted to the next fleeing thought, emotion, feeling, ding and pretty bauble.  We are getting better at being busy with an outcome of less accomplished and what is  less quality.  Multitasking is allowing lack of quality into our life and I think it is creating  stress in our lives.

Back to our example of laundry and the phone.  Surely if anything applied to successful multitasking, something as benign as this, would fit the bill.  I'll politely disagree.  Again, you are teaching yourself to be distracted.  You are teaching yourself to lack focus.  Your Focus muscle is getting smaller and weaker.  

"The way we do small things is the way we do everything."  Robin Sharma

You may think your giving your family or friends your full attention, but again, research has shown you are not.  You are in two places in your mind.  Give me your attention is one of the most powerful acts and also one of the most prized possessions.  So when someone give you theirs, be respectful.  

My favorite story I ever heard about Kobe Bryant was from Kobe himself.  He talks about how he started to the process of training focus.  2:20 on the video.

When we give our focus to a task, good things will happen.  I personally think meditation is becoming so popular, not just because it works (it does) but because it's teaching focus.  What we train we get better at, remember.  There is carryover.  Focus allows us to be a better parent, partner, spouse, worker, craftsman, or friend.  It feels good to apply our focus on things.  We call it flow.  Whole seminars and books are written about finding flow.  Being in the present.  Flow is just the ability to focus and block out all distractions.  

"Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand.  The suns rays do not burn until brought to a focus."  Alexander Graham Bell

Every time you block out the task, stay distraction free, say no to multitasking and focus with singular intent, you will do a better job, have a better outcome.  Have a quicker outcome.  But, more importantly your focus muscle will strengthen.  

At first shoot for a few minutes.  If your reading, read and immerse yourself in the words.  What is it trying to say.  When thoughts show up, which they will.  Acknowledge them, flick it way and go back to reading.  After the few minutes, then address your thought.  Sometimes just writing down the thought, allows us to go back for another few minutes of solid focusing.  

Some practice tips are working in 15-20 min blocks.  Are bodies are almost programmed to move every 20 minutes through a process called creep or deformation.  After 20 min of not moving the soft tissue starts to mold to that position at the cellular level.  But if you get up and move before then, it restarts.  90 min to 2 hours are another chunks of time to be used, with a brake that can be anything from 5-30 minutes.

Focus isn't just about doing stuff though.  Lots of people need to focus on shutting off.  Truly just letting the mind relax.  Sitting and thinking about all the stuff you need to do is not taking a time out. Recover.  As the famous saying goes, time wasted wasn't wasted time.  

Practice no phones with people you are talking too.  Practice just allowing one task to be done at once.  See it to the end and move on.  Get better.  One of my big fears in life is to wake up in a 10 years and be no better at manual therapy. To be the same.  To literally have the old cliche of 10 years of work, but it was one year, repeated 10 times.  How easy it for the same days to become weeks, the weeks a year.

In our clinic, I try to make a conscious decision each appointment to take literally 3 seconds and remind myself, have a new experience.  Accumulate new experiences.  Give this patient my focus.  

I thought a lot about what I wanted 2019 to be more like then the previous year.  It was focus.  In a weird twist ala M. Night Shyamalan style, I realized 2018 had taught me it.  A torn achillies basically forced me into a hyper focus rehab mode.  2-3x a day dedicated rehab with lots of my free reading being directed towards tendon and tendon health.  The result was I feel more fit and faster then even before the tear.  My understanding of tendons has improve leaps and bounds.  The first 6 months just flew by.  Flow.  As the focus slowed down, regular life become more normal again, but for one change, the first time I've started to really notice when I'm distracted.  I think it had been a gradual hardly noticeable slide, until it wasn't.  I could make lots of excuses, owning a business, wife, kids, hobbies, friends, fitness, continueing education, etc...but thats what they are, excuses.  Focus on the task at hand.  Then move to the next.  Build that Focus muscle.  Feed it and it will grow, multitask and it will starve.  

I'll leave you with this quote from the great Philosopher Yoda...

Monday, January 7, 2019

Understanding that Context is King

Context:  The preceding or ending event, word or speech that gives clarity to the meaning.

Perspective:  An individual thought or attitude towards something, point of view.

We live in a world where perspectives have become the foundation for many peoples truths.  It's becoming paramount that your perspective is equal to my perspective.  Instead of trying to decide what your perspective is coming from, we just say you have your right to view it that way and I have the right to view it my way.  Go on about our days.

Perspective isn't the same as opinion.  My favorite vehicle is a 4Runner.  That is an opinion.  If I start telling people to never by a Chevy because they always break down and you are dumb if you buy one, my opinion is slowly evolving into a perspective.  That perspective can get dangerous if I start associating my perspective onto others.  Context is needed to change both.  I may have bought a Chevy it broke down and maybe I felt dumb for buying one.  Now I feel that this is universal.  I search for more people that have had similar circumstances and low and behold, my perspective was confirmed.  This is called confirmation bias.  Context would be looking for how many percentage of vehicles were broken down.  There is work that has to be done.  Context takes work.

You have to be careful with statistics when understanding context.  There were only 10 4Runners brought in to Toyota dealers for problems.  Wow, there were 100 Chevy's brought in.  I told you 4Runners were way better!  Dig Deeper.  There were only 20 4Runners on the road.  There were a  1000 Chevys.  This changes the complete picture.

Last year, did you hear Yanni or Laurel?  I heard Laurel clear as day.

My whole family heard Yanni.  I just assumed we have different way of interpreting the acoustic vibrations, maybe the anatomy of the ear had something to do with it.

Now this was a simple and silly difference, but with a little research the answer was found.  What if it had been a bigger thing?

This has been common meme in social media.

In reality, it should really be more like this.

I often play a game with my oldest kid about comparing things.  Are apples and oranges similar or different.  I want her thinking about context.  To ask better questions.  Are you asking if their both fruits or similar color?  Things we can eat or things that grow in Michigan?

Context requires work and thinking and research.  It also will eliminate misunderstandings, misconceptions and perhaps allow for better conversations and relationships.