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