Monday, December 31, 2012

Well meaning yet easy to break -- the annual New Year's fitness resolution mania

New Year's resolutions can be easy to make, yet easy to break, and frustrating when we break them. According to statistics, over 60% of people make New Year's resolutions, yet less than 10% of these actually succeed in achieving them. Yikes! (yet not surprising). Web sites galore have articles aimed at helping us stick to our good intentions, so I've linked to a bunch of them below.

Losing weight is the most common New Year's resolution (staying fit is #5), and it requires change. Long-term, permanent even.

However, forcing yourself onto a restricting diet you can't possibly keep over the long term makes "failure" almost inevitable. As medical blogger Yoni Freedhoff, MD writes, "don't forget that the more weight you'd like to permanently lose, the more of your life you'll need to permanently change".

Losing weight is important to many people, but it's not falling off a log.

Making a substantial and desired sacrifice change in your lifestyle doesn't happen overnight, or even by the end of January. It's a process.

Maintaining the good and improving the less-good are daily activities, not ones that start on a given holiday date and end after a given number of days or months.

Good philosophy, right?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sexual selection: are you man enough?

OK, guys, what would you do for love?
A peacock's impressive display
photo: 10mpx cg, Wikimedia Commons

Risk your life spreading out a 5-foot long tail and strutting around with it in the open?

Carry around a heavy rack of horns (antelope, beetles) or antlers (deer) for months or years at a time, in order to fight to the death against guys you were friends with when you were young?

Dance alone in front of your target lady, showing off your moves despite attracting potentially dangerous attention (competitors & predators for birds; thieves, assailants, or possibly the neighbors, for us)?

satin bowerbird at its gazebo-like bower,
decorated with every blue item it could find
Build a blue or natural-wood gazebo for your woman of choice to show her what a good provider you are (when she hasn’t shown any interest yet)

Serve your own head to your mate as dinner like certain spiders or the preying mantis (warning: excellent but somewhat macabre video)?

I didn’t think so.

But some animals do, despite the potential harm these traits or activities do to their survival.

What’s the deal – why evolve traits that might shorten their lives?

How would this help their fitness?

Merry Christmas!

End-of-the-year holidays are not often associated with increased physical fitness, and now, post-Christmas dinner, I am feeling, shall we say, somewhat unfit.

Day began after a good night's sleep, then a glorious run on the beach in southern California, where I'm spending the holidays catching up with some old friends and family. We even watched some ducks, geese, and shore birds (godwits, curlews, sandpipers) as well, before heading off to a traditional Italian-American Christmas dinner, put on by my brother-in-law's lovely family. This is where the trouble started.

I tried a little of everything: I happily dove into mozzarella balls, olives, peppers, baked brie, & other appetizers, pasta as the primo (first course), bread, ham & vegetables as the secondo (second course), but it was among the endless supply of desserts that I truly cancelled out any of the health benefits of the day's previous activities.

can you say pasta?
No canoli this year, but my sister the professional baker (Sweet Cheeks Baking in San Diego) made a gorgeous yule log cake, and between that and the apple & pumpkin pies, pumpkin bars, and hordes of homemade cookies, I was in deep trouble!

Cookie monsters are not often sufficiently tempered by running enthusiasm or trying to fill up on veggies.
yule log cake: in spice and peanut butter chocolate - uf!

The question for improved physical fitness starts again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a question on holiday main courses in the US: do more people eat ham than turkey now?

I went to three Christmas-time dinners, all of which had ham, and turkey didn't make it to any of the menus. Just curious.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One slip could be the last: the super-fit ibex kid video

Nubian ibex planning his next climb
photo: Chmee2, WikimediaCommons
The Nubian ibexes that live on the desert shores of the Dead Sea must climb near-vertical cliffs just to survive.

In this setting, their fitness depends on their balance, agility, fearlessness, and some superior eye-hoof coordination.

Have a look at this amazing BBC film clip (David Attenborough narrating!) to watch this nearly newborn kid show off his fitness as he tries to outfox a fox. A definite cliff hanger!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Big Cats on air this week!

It’s Big Cat Week at National Geographic! Starting this Sunday, December 9th – you can watch what will likely be superb footage of the great cats (tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs) on NatGeo WILD on TV.

tiger stalking a wild boar in
India's Bandavgarh National Park
Serengeti National Park is still home to
numerous lion prides

The NatGeo website has some super videos and photo galleries of the cats. One series of videos highlights the photography crew and the challenges they faced to film snow leopards in Afganistan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's flu season!

Here's an interesting take on evolution --

Have you had your flu shot this year?
Flu season is just starting and sources such as World Health Organization recommend it for the eldest and youngest members of society (though some US sources recommend that everyone over 6 months of age get the vaccine).

But really I want to focus here on the evolution of the virus that causes influenza (flu). It is one of science's best-known pathogens, is found in birds and other mammals, as well as humans, and is a continual source of concern to the public health community because it is constantly evolving.

sick dog
flu involves aches and fever, not just a runny nose!
plus many strains exist and are constantly changing
Image by © Push Pictures/Corbis