Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Evolution: good but not perfect

progress? that's funny
photo: DailyMail
As we move forward into a new year, I thought we might talk a bit about our evolutionary progress.

Since the time of our early humanoid ancestors, we've evolved big brains that we can thank for helping us develop languages, space flight, the polio vaccine, and television.

Our evolved ability to walk on 2 legs frees our arms to carry food, water, children, weapons or, of course, a tennis racquet or golf club. We are the only mammals to do this.

These abilities helped our ancestors survive and reproduce, so the related genetic traits have remained in the population - that's natural selection.

While evolution has, on the whole, been good to us, it isn't perfect.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fast, furious... family? Your holiday workout.

'tis the season for family home workouts!
For those of you in unknown turf – visiting friends or relatives, for instance – and uncertain where you can work out in the midst of holiday feasting, fear not!

From the CrossFit group of Workouts Of the Day, here are 10 quickies that you can do with just no equipment, just a little space and some gravity. You should be able to find both in your relatives' den, basement or garage, or, if the temperature is reasonable, their backyard, side street, or park.

Each workout is short, but doing it repeatedly, and fast, makes it hurt; then the next time you do it, you try to beat your old time. So the speed is up to you, though the idea is to make it short but intensive.

Good news: if you can get through it this week, it's very likely you'll do better next time!!

Make it fast, and you might get your family to join in. Note to CrossFit fans: no vomiting when staying at Grandma's house.

it's one way to get your workout
and still be the life of the party
image: CrossFitEasternHills
It's probably not proper CrossFit protocol, but if you are like me and enjoy variety, you can mix and match these instead of completing the suggest number of reps. If the workout is fun, you and I will be more likely to do it!

Have a go at some of these below or a few more from this mega- list of WODs, from CrossFit. You'll thank me when dinner time comes around.

"Rounds for time" means you time yourself from the beginning to the end of the workout, completing all the rounds as quickly as possible, and air squats are squats* without holding a weight (my favorite type!).

1. 3 rounds for time: Run 800 meters + 50 air squats
(Measure out 800 m ahead of time if you’re running down a street, or use a treadmill)

2. 10 rounds for time: 10 pushups + 10 sit-ups +10 air squats

3. For time: 200 air squats

4. 21-15-9 air squats + pushups
(Do 21 reps of each air squats and pushups, then 15 of each, then 9.)

5. 8 rounds for time: 10 situps + 10 burpees

6. 10 rounds for time: 10 pushups, 10 squats, 10 tuck jumps
(Lift knees as high as possible when you jump, ‘tucking’ into your chest)

7. 3 rounds: 50 sit-ups + 400 m run

8. For time: 100 jumping jacks + 75 air squats + 50 pushups + 25 burpees

9. 5 rounds for time: ten vertical jumps (jump as high as you can) + 10 pushups

10. For time: Run 1 mile, stopping to do 10 pushups for every minute that elapses during the run

(these 10 compiled by K. Martinko @ TreeHugger)

* Here's a quick video demonstrating proper squat technique, and here are some dos and don'ts for doing some basic CrossFit moves correctly, with and without weights.

* Here's an endless stream of quick-change WODs, with a timer, for an instant workout.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thank you and have a happy and safe Holiday!

dogs don't care if you've been naughty or nice!

To everyone who's read and enjoyed this blog for the past year, Thank You for your support and a Merry Christmas / Happy Holiday to you and your family!

It has been a hectic month for me, and I've been posting a lot less than I'd like but should have more time again soon (once I finish writing this darned scientific paper, which is already overdue!).

I might have to turn some of my papers into blog posts!

Also, some more holiday fitness ideas coming soon (better late than never)! Until then, here are some holiday funnies ---

Sound familiar?  Yep.

benefits of herbivory!  And being a walking stick.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We're not so different from each other

In the spirit of the Christmas holiday and in honor of Nelson Mandela's vision for a rainbow nation, and, perhaps even a rainbow world...here are some findings from genetic research on how genetically similar humans across the globe actually are.

Research by Dr. Luca Cavalli-Sforza at Stanford University in the US on a variety of genes in a broad range of human populations highlights our common humanity, rather than our differences.

There's more difference among your state or province than
between you all and people across the globe
image: The Economist

The graph shows how patterns in the differences among people in well-studied genes rarely match our understanding of races. Most (around 85%) of the dissimilarity in genes is between individuals in a single population (such as a province or country), and less than 10% of our genetic differences are primarily between populations on different continents.

While there are still genetic tendencies among populations and ethnic groups, we humans are, apparently, really homogeneous. One group of 55 chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, in West Africa shows more genetic diversity than our whole species. In other words, some chimps in that group are more different from each other than you or I are from any other person on Earth.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clever crocs and alligators stick around to hunt birds

I'm waaiiiting...alligator
photo: GinnysFriends
Crocodiles and alligators are tough. Not much going on upstairs, we've always thought, but crocodilians (the generic name for all 22 species) have lasted on this Earth for longer than most animals have because they are strong, solid, and patient. With big teeth.

If biological fitness is the sum of survival and reproduction, then crocs and gators have clearly shown they are FIT.

Apparently, they are also more clever than we've given them credit for.

They are now the first reptiles recorded to use tools, and they join a few birds, one monkey genus, one insect species, and us in using tools to lure other (prey) animals to them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mandela: a great statesman who did fingertip push-ups

Nelson Mandela's ability to champion the message of unity and forgiveness – despite mistreatment he and his people suffered under Apartheid and any negative inner feelings he may have held – is unparalleled.

Mandela, who just passed away at age 95, was a freedom fighter, statesman, writer, survivor, and hero to South Africa. He was also a fitness buff, who believed that staying physically, as well as mentally, strong was essential to being able to influence and to serve others.

Not a guy that gives up: Mandela's physical
and mental strength kept him active all his life

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not all species need it (8 hrs of sleep, that is)

So I mentioned in a recent post that this past month's Bangkok Marathon started at 2 a.m. (yes, it's true), making a good night's sleep impossible for the participants (although they probably had a great night's sleep after the race!).

The physical and cognitive benefits of sleeping allow us to work and play harder and more effectively. Sleep scientists have developed several ideas on why and how sleeping for long periods became such a key part of daily human life.

But why did humans and some animals evolve to sleep for long periods, while other species either rest periodically throughout the day or night but never conk out completely?

In other words, if sleeping is so good for us and for some other animals, including mice, why don't all animals sleep for 7-8 hours at a time each night like we do? (yes, I know, we don't all get 8 hours either...but read on!)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Here is a quick, funny follow-up to my last post on the heart, grit, and passion, and dedication needed to train for and finish long races like the Bangkok marathon.

It's The Day After, created to congratulate finishers of the New York City marathon, but the effects are the same.  If anything, the high heat and humidity of Bangkok make some of them worse. It does make one wonder about signing up for the next one!

Defy the numbers and run

In honor of my Bangkok Running buddies who finished their first full 42-km / 26.2 mile marathon at today's Bangkok Marathon, and friends that finished the NYC marathon and a full IronMan triathlon earlier this month, a reminder:

"Life is not a math equation. Neither is running."

In other words, even for runners that love numbers (that's a lot of you out there!) or feel they may lack the necessary biomechanics, we can't measure the heart, grit, or passion that are also needed to train for, complete, and even score high in big events.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Peek into the rainforest...it's vulnerable

We read about the extraordinary numbers of plants and animals that live in the rainforest. Of course, the rainforest isn't just one place - rainforests vary by continent, rainfall – though normally more than 2,000 mm (79 in) per year, elevation, and the underlying soil type. The communities of trees, birds, ants, fish, monkeys, and mosses you might find in Peru, such as these below, differ from those in Congo or New Guinea, or even Venezuela.
crazy katydid
my study subject, the bald-faced saki monkey
jacamars near the river's edge
The western Amazon, just east of the Andes range, is famous among biologists for the sheer number of everything that is found there. The problem is finding all those different species.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Clean teeth, clean heart

image: imgur
OK, so the Halloween candy is gone...unless you are very disciplined, so how about some help with post-candy tooth brushing?

Yes, I know, you've been doing this for awhile now and are probably an expert. Or are you?

For those uncertain about their brushing and flossing techniques or frequency, here is a helpful guide.

OK, here is the real helpful guide.

Why am I bothering with a post on teeth-brushing?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

St. John's What? An herbal supplement analysis

photo: PatSullivan/Associated Press
A new scientific study that tested the authenticity and integrity of herbal medicine products by analyzing the DNA of their contents found that many herbal supplements are “little more than powdered rice and weeds.”

The Canadian researchers found that pills of 44 popular medicinal herbal products, from 12 companies in Canada and the U.S., were not what they claimed to be. Some used plants other than the advertised species, and others diluted or replaced the advertised herbs with cheap fillers, such as rice or soybean. Still others contained wheat or nuts, making them potentially harmful for people with celiac (coeliac) disease or nut allergies.

If you take herbal supplements (or not), this will be informative!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sugar's tricks and treats beyond Halloween

choices, choices
Happy Post-Halloween nibbles!

For those with a stash of Halloween candy, here are some fun facts to go with those fun-sized chocolates and other goodies.

First of all, here is – yes – a comparative nutritional analysis of candy!  No single winner, but several "better" options for different candy categories.

I was originally just going to leave it at that to honor this hallowed American holiday, but then I started reading about sweets...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is this red panda playing?

OK, so what sort of behavioral development is going on here?

Is this red panda playing?
    Practicing its pouncing ability for future hunting?
        Protesting the lack of red panda Halloween celebrations?

Video courtesy of edisproduction, but for more red panda videos, you can follow kyuuritekuteku

Red pandas are typically solitary, and their main foods are bamboo, fruits, acorns, roots, and eggs, not fast-moving smaller animals, so I'm leaning toward the Playing.

Here and here are two more great examples of animals playing -- or are they practicing future survival skills? Sounds like a great future research project...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sleep for health, not just beauty!

People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'"
― George Carlin

If you sleep 8 hours each night, you are essentially dedicating 1/3 of your life to being unconscious.

Despite the seeming disconnect between sleeping and the rest of our busy lives, sleep is Really Important, and not just so you can stay awake in the office the next day.

this explains a lot...
and is the reason Thai marathons start at 3a.m.!
A small example: by combining late-night talks with family and friends in North America (11-14 hours behind us here in Bangkok, Thailand) and early-morning bouts of running, tennis, swimming, or aerobics to avoid (some of) the city's famously brutal heat and humidity, I sometimes don't get enough sleep.

For me, staying up late usually leads to late-night snacking, which inevitably, leads to weight gain, but burning the candle at both ends can harm us in other tangible ways as well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Curious animal traits

Some evolutionary benefits of these curious traits?

cartoon: ChaosLife

  • Sleeping is key when one's primary food source contains very little energy or nutrients.

  • Knowing the mating potential of a female through the hormones in her urine allows smooth giraffe mating.

  • Cubical poop? You got me. Any guesses?

  • And the weirdest thing about the platypus is the way it swims?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Know your friend, know your enemy

I, for one, am always forgetting people's names. Faces I can hold onto, but names elude me. I know I'm not alone on this (right??), but as a social animal, it's really important to know who's who.

Unda village, Enga province, PNG
My recent trip to Papua New Guinea showed me how critical it was to highland people to know from exactly which village each person was. People still associate closely with their tribe, and tight-knit clans still fight to the death over land and other resources.

With 700-800 different languages and a history of both cannibalism and strict payback for earlier perceived wrongs, ones ability to recognize the faces, smells, and sounds of others can be life-saving.

Walking through Unda village, I remember being told that up and over the big hill ahead (from where I'd come earlier that morning, actually) lived a different tribe.

these 2 tribes can still
find common ground
For me, as a member of a REALLY faraway tribe, the difference between the folks in this village and the folks up the hill was not an issue, but for them, it was like talking about people from another country.

In earlier times, tribal boundaries also limited where you could travel safely. The resulting isolation led to the development of all those languages, some of which cover areas of just 20-50 km2.

It's the same for other social animals: knowing who's in your tribe can mean the difference between life and death, or at least avoiding a great deal of unnecessary stress.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Carbon intensity of foods

Like food?
OK, dumb question.

Concerned about what's in the food you eat?
Have a look at this recent post to learn how to determine what's inside that package of your favorite bread or yogurt.

Interested in minimizing your food's carbon footprint?
Here's a simple but thought-provoking video that helps explain the energy, or carbon intensity (CO2 equivalent), needed to produce a kilogram of various common food items.

In brief, foods like potatoes that don't produce methane during cultivation (no large animals involved!) and don't require much tilling or fertilizer will tend to have lower carbon footprints. The more inputs, transport, and animal feed and waste associated with producing your food, the higher its carbon footprint.

You can, of course, apply the criteria to other foods as well. Typically, eating locally (less transport), eating lower on the food chain (veggies), and, of course, growing your own food all reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

However, trying to "green" your diet is not simple. For example, green beans from Kenya are commonly sold in Britain when British beans aren't in season. "[Kenyan beans] are grown using manual labour - nothing is mechanised," says Professor Gareth Edwards-Jones an expert on African agriculture at U.K.'s Bangor University. "They don't use tractors, they use cow muck as fertiliser; and they have low-tech irrigation systems in Kenya. They also provide employment to many people in the developing world. So you have to weigh that against the air miles used to get them to the supermarket."

waste going to a landfill compost
photo: Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News
Clearly, it's complicated.

Producing food not only emits carbon dioxide and methane, it also converts natural vegetation (and associated animal communities) to an agricultural monoculture, loses soil through erosion from downslope tilling, diverts water to irrigate fields and produce energy, and pollutes water and soil microbe communities with nutrients and chemicals.

This doesn't even get into the sustainability of producing our food and the energy used to deal with food waste...

Help! Any tips on eating with minimal negative environmental impacts?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elephants really don't forget

enjoying a water hole in the very dry
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Elephants have huge brains to accompany their huge bodies and are famous for their long-term memories. They not only remember each other, even after years of separation, they also remember landscapes.

African savannah elephants live long lives in often harsh conditions that require smarts to survive. If they can remember sources of water and food that were reliable in a drought 20 or 30 years ago, they may save their herd in the next drought.

Matriarchs of African herds can live for 60-70 years, and older females seem to be the key to remembering these critical resources and leading their herd to them in times of food and water scarcity. But what else do they remember?

Monday, October 14, 2013

An average guy's body

just an average American guy
image: Nickolay Lamm
This is Todd. He's overweight. Which makes him an average American.

What's average? Todd is a U.S. male between 30 and 39 years old. His body mass index (BMI) is 29, one unit shy of the medical definition of obese. He's five-feet-nine-inches (175 cm) tall, his waist is 39 inches (99 cm).

As the issue of health care continues to plague the U.S., this article in The Atlantic magazine seemed curiously relevant to the country's future economic, as well as social, well-being. You've heard or read about the obesity epidemic, both in the U.S. and, increasingly, the world. U.S. obesity rates have doubled since 1970, to over 30%, and more than two-thirds of Americans are now overweight.

People that are overweight have higher chances of contracting many serious diseases – including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and high blood pressure – than leaner folks.

A higher percentage of overweight workers in a society increases both the direct medical costs (e.g. more expensive treatment) and indirect costs (reduced productivity, more days lost to illness or rest, restricted activity, and lost income from injury or death). In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled around $147 billion in the U.S. alone.

But what does this mean for your average person, like Todd?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why and how to read a food label

42% of total calories from fat
— cookie, anyone?
image: Diet Motion
What's in that cookie?

Or your low-fat yogurt, or that package of high-fiber crackers?

For all you health nuts wanting to eat more fiber or less saturated fat but are skeptical about the ethics / good will of corporate food marketing policies, here's a primer on reading a food label. I'm including several resources at the end for you to investigate further – there's a lot written about this!

Nutrition labels allow consumers to know how much of specific nutrients are in the product, enable comparison between similar products, and require companies to back up their nutrition or dietary claims ("Excellent source of calcium!") with information on the package and subsequent inspections to verify it. (All this in pre-Shutdown U.S., of course, you might avoid some non-labeled fish and produce these next few weeks).

Monday, October 7, 2013

We got out of the food chain!

Happy Monday!

Be grateful: Louis CK describes Life if we were still in the food chain... "...awhhh shit! There's all these !@#$%^& cheetahs in the train station!"

[Short post = busy week. Enjoy!]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Plank Challenge!

The intrepid Bangkok Runners are starting a plank challenge - care to join us?

We're starting easy on October 1st and increasing the time we hold an abdominal plank position each day for the rest of the month.

Why do planks?

They are thought (by some, since there is never agreement on these sorts of things) to be the best all-around exercise for your abdominal muscles.

A strong core provides stability and power and enables athletes to hold proper form for longer periods - helpful for runners climbing hills or finishing long races - and it improves balance, which makes for a stronger showing on trail runs, not to mention tennis matches, soccer games, or basketball games.

modified side plank for seals
photo: Intent Blog
Maintaining strong muscles in your abs, lower back, and glutes also reduces the strain on the lower back, knees, and hamstring muscles.

Planks are safe, effective, and efficient, but form is important, so here are two versions of how to do a plank: the guy version and the gal version.

Don't forget to complement the standard front plank with side planks and bridges for your obliques and back/glute muscles.

If you want to join us remotely, here is our schedule (and no, LinDa, you cannot just sign up for Days 13 and 19!):

Once you've held the plank for 5 minutes, I think you deserve another rest day. But if you're itching for more variety, or just don't ever want to see a plank again, try a few of the favorite ab exercises of 20 fitness experts!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How is biodiversity like beer?

How do smaller organisms survive alongside bigger, stronger ones?

This MinuteEarth video explains why we have diversity in both economics and biology in a simple and understandable way. With beer.

Just as several different microbreweries might all co-exist in a single city or country, many types of understory plants, including multiple species of ferns, can survive in the same area of a forest.

In that same forest, tiny hummingbirds with long, thin bills can't compete with parrots for protein-rich seeds. But they CAN survive happily alongside parrots (which have larger, stronger bills) by drinking nectar from flowers.

So, sometimes the Big Guy is the fittest, but sometimes the species or beer that avoids competition by adopting a unique niche, or living strategy, survives just as well and for just as long.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rhinos: big, prehistoric, and not medicine

Yesterday was World Rhino Day, designated to celebrate the five species of rhinoceros, all of which are severely threatened by people.

Rhinos have disappeared from many countries in both Asia and Africa because their grassland and savanna homes are now crops or houses.

More urgently, people have already killed most of the world's rhinos and elephants to produce medicine or trinkets from their body parts. In Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, people seem to think that consuming rhino horn powder will cure rheumatism, reduce fever, and lessen hangovers.

It doesn't do any of these things.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Otters balance work and play

In the last post, we saw how super-smart dolphins find time to not only play but get their cetacean whale friends to join in.

Not to be outdone, otters are champion play-masters that can entertain others as well as themselves. Hint: very cute video!

This isn't the only star in the otter world -- other talented otters have been filmed juggling 2 rocks or balancing pet rocks on their forearms, both while entertaining a crowd of humans.

In the wild, both young and adult otters play around regularly. Two interesting tidbits from a Humboldt State University study on this:
otters show us how it's done
photo: Tony Hisgett,Wikimedia
  1. their play style -- wrestling, pouncing, and sliding -- doesn't match their fishing style; however, they do have complicated family structures, so playing together may create stronger social bonds.

  2. the amount of prey (fish, frogs, crabs, clams, etc) available influences the amount of time otters spend playing. In places where food is scarce, otters cut short the time they spend playing and socializing with each other.
So play may be a fun but luxury commodity that adults can enjoy when "work" isn't overwhelming. Sound familiar?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dolphins at play...with whales!

Like children, young animals, especially those living in groups, horse around and play frequently.

Scientists still don't know why, exactly, though they've proposed various reasons: training for adulthood activities, learning to be aggressive against attackers, learning to socialize with others in their group, and even lowering their stress level.

What about adult animals -- do they play?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Stay safe outdoors: how to avoid a lightning strike

lightning hits a tree - OUCH.
photo: NOAA, Wikimedia Commons
Maintaining your physical and biological fitness means staying healthy and injury-free. This includes avoiding weather hazards, even more than dangerous animals, such as some sharks!

For all you outdoor fitness buffs, did you know that lightning is not only powerful and unpredictable, but common?

It's powerful!

Lightning is a big discharge of electricity: strikes can carry over 100 million volts, with 30,000 amps of charge. The energy lightning produces heats the air around it anywhere from 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (9,982 degrees C) to up to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit (33,315 degrees C). Needless to say, it burns.

It's unpredictable!

Lightning usually strikes the tallest object around, but it can travel 10-20 miles before striking the ground, so a storm in the next town can hit in front of you, even if the skies above you are blue.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Gears spell G-force for the super-jumping planthopper

The flea-sized Issus planthopper insect has made mainstream news, not because it jumps about a meter (3 feet), some 300 times its length, or because it jumps every day with astounding speed, at an acceleration of 200 Gs (the human record is a momentary 46 G acceleration).

It's in the news because it's an example of nature having first "invented" what we thought was a man-made technology: interlocking gears.

From an electron microscope:
the back legs of a planthopper insect.
image: Gregory Sutton, University of Bristol

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stress management through stress appreciation

image: SRxA Word on health
We know that exercise helps us deal with stress, and in a recent post, I relayed how this happens inside the brain (hint: regular exercise keeps the brain calm by activating certain neurons that keep mice, at least, from leaping into that hyped-up, fight-or-flight state).

In the face of challenge, threat, or fear, our bodies react: we tense up, we breathe faster, our heart starts pounding, we break out in a sweat, we are hyper-aware of what's happening around us. On their own and over a short period, these symptoms don't hurt us.

But is stress bad for us over time? That apparently depends on how we view it - it's literally the thought that counts. To watch a cool TED talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend, read on.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Speeds are species-specific

Here's a great image to remind us that species move at their own speeds and that achieving evolutionary fitness doesn't require top speed, strength, or big brain power.

Both snails and tortoises (non-swimming turtles) have roamed the Earth for over 200 million years, and their slow speeds have not jeopardized their survival or reproduction.

Both benefit from carrying their protective covering on their backs and from eating a wide range of readily-available foods. Land snails eat leaves, fruit, fungi, and algae, while tortoises eat shrubs, cacti, and other plants, as well as insects, worms, and even (yikes!) snails.

If we consider body size, the hair-raising speed of this tortoise might be less comical. According to Speed of Animals, a garden snail has a top speed of 0.1 km/hr, but if it were your size, it would be moving at up to 2.6 km/hour.

Large tortoises move at roughly 0.3 km/hr, and a human-sized version of this little one might reach speeds similar to those of the snail. So no complaining, snail!

The image from the I F**king Love Science Facebook page - worth a review for any science buffs! If you dislike the name, consult Science Is Awesome, with much the same content.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Evolution and the walking shark

Is it waddling or wiggling?

More cute than ferocious, this species of bamboo shark "walks," using its pectoral and pelvic fins, across coral or the sea floor to search for crustaceans and small fish, mainly at night. It has a long slender body to facilitate that charming side-to-side wiggle walk.

Video credit: Conservation International, Mark Erdmann

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Exercise may regulate anxiety - related to flight or fight

Regular exercise is known to help reduce anxiety, but how?

A recent study in The Journal of Neuroscience suggested that exercise, in this case running, helps reduce anxiety by keeping the brain calm in the face of stress.

Exercising regularly seems to reorganize the brain, at least in mice, to deal better with stress by shutting off the "flight or fight" reaction to a particular stressor and allowing the brain to function normally.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Staying fit while traveling...a version for remote regions

Travel can be a challenge anywhere, and traveling on a budget to remote areas in countries with different attitudes towards exercise ("what is that woman running away from??") requires particularly good planning, flexibility, and tenacity.

masks from the tribes along the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

I had the opportunity to visit Papua New Guinea this month - the reason for my blog silence these last 2 weeks. The place has great masks, carvings, and handmade bags called bilums, as well as electricity in most urban and tourism centers, but a functioning internet exists almost nowhere.

man wearing a bilum made from the fur of a cuscus
and decorated with jawbones of bandicoots
and dried plant stems

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Musings on Mastery

Have you ever noticed how smooth and graceful expert athletes look in action? Mastery breeds grace and beauty, even (especially?) in the midst of heavy breathing and perspiration.

it must be easy if they all do it so similarly, right?
mastery x 3 at the Olympics

Experienced dancers make impossible moves look strangely normal. Until you try them yourself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Animal superpowers on display

Love superheroes? Want some superpowers of your own? I thought so.

Actually, we big-brained humans have made some great strides using our own powers, and this fun video highlights some lesser-known superheroes of the natural world.

Their sometimes off-the-wall superpowers help them handle the challenges of avoiding predators, finding prey, finding each other, navigating rivers and oceans, walking up walls, withstanding radiation, toxins, freezing, and even starvation. These powers enhance the competitive advantage and, ultimately, the evolutionary fitness, of their owners.

If you like these, have a look at some of the gold medalists of the natural world, inspired by last year's Olympics.

Can you think of other animal superpowers?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lightning strikes faster than sharks


Sharks, as seen in Time,
post-Jaws 1975

Last year, 80 unprovoked shark attacks occurred worldwide, and 7 were fatal. Are you scared yet?

If so, consider these comparisons:

Between 2001 and 2010, sharks killed 10 people in the United States, while dogs killed 263.

Along the U.S. coast, lightning killed an average of 38 people each year from 1959 through 2010, while sharks attacked 19 and killed less than 1 per year; in other words, you were 76 times more likely to die by lightning strike as by shark attack.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Here's to Big Cats!

In honor of World Cat Day (these are Big Cats, not the kitty riding around on a vacuum in a shark costume to honor Shark Week - that's another post!), have a look at this super infographic from Nature & Public Broadcasting on tigers ---

Tiger Facts from Nature-PBS

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spice up your food, it's good for you

Bangkok street food at a vegetarian festival.
Note the red (spicy) color of some of those dishes!
I live in Bangkok, in Thailand, land of spicy (yummy) food. There are apartments in this city that don't have kitchens because cheap, tasty, relatively healthful street food is all over place, at every hour of the day and night.

While I've enjoyed many different dishes here, there is still a lot of Thai food that I can't eat because it is so spicy.

Turns out the Thai are onto something with their love of spices.

Research recently presented by Dr. John Peters of University of Colorado and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) suggests that adding herbs and spices to lower-calorie meals and vegetables makes the food more appealing to people.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Born to throw: another part of early hunting strategies?

in search of antelope?
I've read and heard how running, as part of a strategy of persistence hunting, was critical to human development on the African savanna.

But until just this week I hadn't heard the same for throwing!

A recent study suggests that hunting was also the impetus behind baseball, javelin, and maybe even football, cricket, and tennis.

We humans (OK, not me, but others) have the unique ability to throw a rock, ball, spear or other object both far and fast, an ability that researchers from George Washington University in the U.S. say evolved nearly 2 million years ago to facilitate hunting.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bee-utiful: honeybee pollination of our favorite foods

Enjoying your summer fruits and veggies? Thank the bees!

some favorite fruits, nuts, and veggies pollinated by bees
image: Operation Bee
Here’s why:

As they buzz from flower to flower, bees pollinate roughly 71 of the 100 fruit, vegetable, nut, and other crop plant species that provide 90% of the world’s food, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This includes not only fruits, nuts, and veggies, but also alfalfa and other plants that are key to livestock production.

In fact, crops pollinated by bees comprise roughly one-third of our diet (here's a list of crop plants pollinated by bees), yet their requirements and their massive contribution to agricultural production have mostly gone unnoticed until recently, when bee colonies across the U.S. and Europe started failing.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sleeping less and eating more

Do you stay up late at night?

I do at times, and that tends to be when I sabotage a whole day of healthy eating. Turns out I am not alone. Enough people see and feel the effects of late-night snacking to inspire researchers to study it scientifically.

midnight + full fridge = trouble
photo credit: Details

Friday, July 26, 2013

Frog shelter

Amphibians are amazing in their ability to spend their early lives in water and adult lives on land. Even though frogs live half their lives in water, apparently, sometimes rain is just too much, even for frogs.

wonderful 2-inch frog shelters itself from the rain in Jember, East Java in Indonesia
photo: Penkdix Palme, submitted to National Geographic