Whole lotta chafin’ goin’ on

I noticed when I got up this morning that the sky looked a bit dark and uniform.  The sun had not risen yet, so I couldn’t tell if the sky was clear or overcast.  It wasn’t as cold as it had been the last few days, around 40 degrees F, so I dressed lighter than for a frigid run.  I checked the weather on weather.com.  It showed a massive band of rain heading our way, and it looked like it would reach us around 11:00 AM.

We gathered for our usual run this morning, Sunday, December 29, in front of our local running store, the Haddonfield Running Company.  About 12 runners were out this morning, one new to our group; the rest were the usual gang.  Our typical Sunday run is a thirteen mile loop starting at 7:30, followed by coffee at Starbucks.  We have a number of runners in the group who have started their training for the Boston Marathon, April 21, 2014.  For them, the weather is not an issue.   They are committed to run regardless.  The rest of us have our various races scheduled in the spring, so we also don’t mind getting a few raindrops on us.

I ran from my house to the store, and after a few pleasantries, we started off on our run.  As soon as we started, the ran began.  It was very light at first, just a mere sprinkle.  But not too far into the run, it became a steady, cold rain, with a grey uniform sky, and no real color anywhere.  We kept together as a group, probably from a preservation instinct, unlike other days when the fast ones take off like rabbits.  At first the rain didn’t seem to faze anyone too much.  There was a lot of talk amongst us, about Boston, training, cyclocross racing, geese, news of the day, and so on.  The new guy came from a cyclocross background, and had only been running since he got new running shoes for Christmas.  Geese are everywhere we run around the Cooper River Park.  They are Canadian geese which have settled permanently in our neighborhood.  They don’t migrate anywhere; they are perfectly content to stay here the year round.  Every year a new gaggle of goslings is produced, and the numbers just keep going up and up.

As the run went on, the talk trailed off.  We really just wanted this run to be over.  The rain continued with small, cold drops that now had drenched us thoroughly.  Puddles were all around, and impossible to avoid completely, so our shoes and socks got soaked, too.  We made a quick stop for a drink at the Cooper River boat house.  Oddly, there is no water fountain on the premises, so we have to drink from the faucets in the restroom.  As we got going again, we all noticed how cold we had gotten from just a quick stop.  Crossing a road on the way back, a driver, who had the right of way, stopped to let us cross the road, no doubt wondering why presumably sane people would get out and run in this weather.  While a couple of the group cut the run a bit short toward the end, my friends Tony and Brandon and I gutted it out for the full thirteen miles.  Brandon, who is usually one of the above mentioned rabbits, seemed content to hang with us older, slower types today.  I noticed, after I had stopped, that my body temperature seemed to plummet.  I made straight for the Starbucks, and grabbed my backpack.  I headed for the restroom to change into dry clothing.

The coffee shop has a gas fireplace, which was very welcome today.  We were all shivering on arrival, but rapidly warmed up in front of the fire.  After I got home, I hopped in the shower.  Yeowww!  Those areas that had been rubbed raw by the wet clothing were suddenly and shockingly evident as the hot water sluiced over me.  The shower felt awfully good, though, and once done, I put on some warm jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and stayed indoors the rest of the day.  We have only a couple of days left in 2013.  To all my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and running mates I wish you all a healthy and happy new year.

SJAC members hanging out at Starbucks after our Sunday morning run.

SJAC members hanging out at Starbucks after a Sunday morning run.

Running in the Dark

Running in the Dark

I’m up early this morning
Down the stairs I make my way
Stumble into the kitchen
Getting ready to face another day
Put on some coffee
Man, it’s cold and dark outside
Gobble down some granola
Get a hot shower,
Then it’s off to work I ride.

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Just getting home now
Boy, today was kind of rough
Nothing went easy
Had to really show that I am tough
The sofa is calling
Open a beer and just sit back
No one is pushing me
Who’s to know I took some slack

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

I head up the stairs
Put on the pants with reflective stripes
Long sleeve shirt next
Then the vest that’s shinin’ bright
Gloves ’cause it’s cold out
Warm socks and then my old Brooks
Hat and a headlamp
No, I’m not dressing up for looks

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Dodging the traffic
Getting started on my run
Garmin is reading
And it’s starting to be fun
Christmas lights are shining
Illuminate the way for me
I know why I do this
It feels so great to be so free

Now winter’s on us,
Streetlights are lit when I’m home from work
Gotta keep on training
Even though I’m just running in the dark

Wanna’ keep on running
The training game ain’t just a lark
Gotta keep on going
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark
Even though I’m just running in the dark

With apologies to the Boss.

A Handful of Nuts….

Pecan Tree

Pecan Tree, East Ranch, Madill, Oklahoma

A handful of nuts.

A Handful of Nuts

A report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on November 21, 2013, entitled “Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.”  This really caught my eye for a few reasons.  The primary reason was I wondered how it was possible to do such a study.  The second, and perhaps the more important, was I wanted to know if eating nuts could really have an effect on one’s mortality.  The third was whether the study would have been published if they had not proven their hypothesis, i.e., that eating nuts is good for you.

The study has a very impressive pedigree.  It was performed and written by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Indiana University.  It was funded by the National Institutes of Health (the NIH), and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation.  I was unaware of the Tree Nut Council, but it is an interesting note that they would be funding research showing nuts are really good for you.  On the other hand, the report states “the funders of the study had no role in its design or conduct; in the collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or in the preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.”

How was it possible to do this study?  The study was done by examining nut consumption in two very large groups of people for whom intimate details of their lives are available.  One is a group called the Nurses’ Health Study, a group of 121,700 female nurses living in 11 states in the U.S.A., enrolled in 1976.  The other is the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a group of 51,529 male health professionals from all 50 states, enrolled in 1986.  Food frequency questionnaires were regularly filled out by these participants, and were the basis of the data collected.  The examined group was pared down to those for whom good data was available.  People with known heart disease, stroke or cancer were excluded.  Ultimately, they studied 76,464 women, and 42,498 men.  So they had significant numbers of participants to study.  They report that food frequency data was collected from these people using questionnaires administered every 2-4 years, starting with the women in 1980, and the men in 1986.  They asked how often during the preceding year did the person eat a one ounce (28 g) serving of nuts:  almost never, 1-3 times a month, once a week, 2-4 times a week, daily, or more often.  They also asked if the nuts were peanuts (a legume), or tree nuts.  The end point of the study was death.  So, if you were participating and died during the study, your nut consumption, cause of death, and other factors were then compared against the group still alive.  They found some very interesting things about nut eaters.  As a group, they tend to be leaner, less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and more likely to take a vitamin supplement.  They also consumed more fruit and vegetables, and drank more alcohol.  In other words, they were very much like my running friends.  The researchers state, though, that they were able to tease apart these other factors in order to look at nut consumption alone as a predictive factor.  They found that how often one ate that handful of nuts was inversely proportional to their chance of dying during the study.  This was expressed as a hazard ratio, a way of comparing relative risks, but not the absolute risk, of an event occurring.  During the years of study, 30 for women, and 24 for men, 16,200 women died, and 11,229 men died.  That is around one in four participants in the study, which seems a high number.  The ones who ate the most nuts, more than one ounce a day, had a hazard ratio of dying of 0.8, or 20% lower chance than those who never or rarely ate nuts.  When they examined peanuts versus tree nuts, the reduced risk of mortality persisted.  Brief mention is made in the report that most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease, were decreased in the nut eaters, hence the reference to “cause specific” in the title.

They point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of such a study.  The study included a large number of enrollees, so presumably the statistics are meaningful.  They were careful to include methods for ensuring that the data were as reliable as possible, and that their statistical methods compared apples to apples, so to speak.  However, the study is an observational study, so while it can show an association, it cannot show cause and effect.  Another point not mentioned, is that the number of enrollees who died was significant, and makes me think a good number may have been older when they were first enrolled.  Another criticism of the study is that a large percent of the nut eaters were also, in general, more likely to exercise, eat a Mediterranean diet, and be thinner than the nut avoiders who, perhaps, were also were more likely to consume Ho-Ho’s, who knows.   While they state they were able to separate out these variables, intuitively it seems that if someone eats a healthy diet, exercises, and is thinner that person is less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer. In a related study published in the NEJM February 25, 2013, “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet,” a group of Spanish researchers showed that in a study of people at high cardiovascular risk, but without known heart disease, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of cardiovascular events.  This was a prospective study, meaning the study participants were divided into two groups, and studied going forward, rather than observed after the fact.  In fact, the study was stopped at 4.8 years due to the significance of the data being collected.  Of course, that can skew a study also.  It is possible for the healthy eaters to catch up to the poor eaters in their heart disease and mortality given a little more time.

What does this tell us about the value of a handful of nuts, and its effect on our well being?  The researchers give several plausible explanations why nuts may be good for us in general.  They contain unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.  They also contain certain phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals such as carotenoids, flavonoids and phytosterols) which may be healthful.  They cannot say, based on their research, that if one starts eating a handful of nuts on a daily basis, that person will avoid heart disease or cancer.  If you are my age, 59, much of your fate may already be cast, with regards to eating habits, atherosclerosis, and other long term health issues.  But that doesn’t mean there is no benefit.  In fact, changing one’s dietary ways at any time could have good effects, too.  In general, from numerous other studies cited by the two papers described above, eating a Mediterranean diet which includes olive oil or nuts is a very healthy type of diet.  Does your olive oil need to be “extra-virgin”?  Extra-virgin is cold-pressed and is the first pressing of the olive.  It is less processed than its non-virginal counterparts, and so has more of the natural substances intact.  There are lots of oils that claim extra-virgin status, which don’t quite live up to the name or reputation.  One must shop carefully.

I feel the benefits of a handful of nuts daily are there, but may not be as important as the overall habit of adherence to a Mediterranean diet.  I know at this time of year, close to Christmas, with cold weather and snow, and long nights with short days, the lure of all sorts of dietary indiscretions is strong.  Yet, be mindful of what you eat, as it does become you.  And grab that handful of nuts…

Pecan Tree

Another Pecan Tree

Citations:

Ying Bao, M.D., Sc.D., Jiali Han, Ph.D. et. al., Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.  NEJM, 2013, 369:2001-2011.

Ramon Estruch, M.D., Ph.D., Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D., et. al., Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.  NEJM, 2013, 368:1279-1290.

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