Friday, April 17, 2015

Podcast: NPR Fresh Air on longetivity -- listen while you are training

I just listened to an interview of Bill Gifford, author of Spring Chicken, a book on longetivity on NPR's Fresh Air.

The title of the book sounds a bit frivolous, but the book is well researched -- based on interviews of scientists and exceptional old athletes. Some of his advice, backed up with data: exercise, stay thin and avoid human growth hormone.

I'm not sure if there is enough actionable information to justify reading the book, but it has a 4.5 average rating on Amazon.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Friday, August 12, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

McMaster University: Exercise compensates for mitochondrial DNA damage in mice

The mitochondrial theory of aging postulates that the lifelong accumulation of somatic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations leads to progressive decline in tissue function. To what extent can exercise slow that decline?

Using mice that were genetically engineered for elevated mtDNA mutations, researchers at McMaster University found that 45 minutes of treadmill exercise three times a week stopped the expected rapid aging. The genetically modified mice that exercised on a treadmill three times a week, were comparable to healthy mice, while sedentary mice aged rapidly, becoming bald, gray-haired, weak, socially isolated an less fertile.

The abstract of the article reporting on the research is here, but the article is behind a pay-wall. You can, however, see the detailed supporting material without paying. The supporting material includes four movies that show the effect of exercise. Check this one out:

Click to play the movie

Mice on a treadmill -- which one works out?

This study is great news if you are a genetically engineered mouse, and it may offer a partial explanation of aging and the benefits of exercise in some humans.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"It's not what you once did that counts the most, but what you keep doing."

This quote is from Johnny Kelley, an Olympian who went on to run 61 Boston marathons.

I found it in runner-writer Joe Henderson's excellent Running Commentaries. Henderson publishes a new commentary every Friday, and I'm a long time subscriber.

He also has a web site where you can subscribe to his commentaries and read some of his books.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How fast do running and swimming records drop with age?

Yale economist and marathon runner Ray Fair has analyzed record data in running and swimming to estimate the rate at which our ability drops with age.

As you see below, records decline at a relatively steady rate between the ages of 35 and 70-75, then the rate of decline picks up rapidly.

We see that distance running and swimming drop off faster than sprinting, and Fair notes that women drop off a bit faster than men. Chess declines are much slower than the physical activities.

Fair has calculated age factors like those graphed above for men running and high jumping, men and women swimming, and chess. For example, here are the age factors for short races -- 100, 200 and 400 meters -- by men:

Age factor1.

Using the table, you can see that if, for example, you ran 100 meters in 12 seconds at age 35, Fair would predict that you would have slowed to 1.23 x 12 = 14.8 seconds by age 70. (His tables use age 35 as a reference point).

If you have a time from an age other than 35, you can compute a predicted time using the ratio of the the two age factors. For example, if you ran a race in 20 seconds at age 50, you would expect it to take 20 x 1.23 / 1.09 = 22.6 seconds at age 70.

You can download a spreadsheet with all of Fair's age factors or use his online calculators to make your own estimates:This paints kind of a grim picture for me -- I am just turning 70 -- but there are a few "outs." For one, I spend more time weight lifting than running or swimming. I wonder what the age factors for weight lifting records are? A second possibility sounds like wishful thinking, but maybe record holders decline faster than the rest of us lesser athletes. Testosterone is another variable. To what extent are these results a function of diminished testosterone levels, and can testosterone supplementation slow the decline? (We have to talk about the efficacy and safety of testosterone supplementation in a later post).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How long can we expect to remain active and how acive can we remain? How fast will our capacity diminish with age?

I just read a blog post that takes a shot at working out:
A lot of people (boomers?) seem to be convinced that if they lift one more weight or run one more mile, they will never get old. Even if you don’t succumb to cosmetic surgery or spend too much money on expensive anti-aging creams that don’t work, there comes a day, I think, when it’s too much effort any longer to keep up the pretense.
Fear of aging and death are obviously not the only reasons we lift weights or run, but I'm not deluding myself that this will go on forever -- how long can we remain active and how active can we remain? How fast will our capacity diminish with age?

There is no comprehensive answer to these questions, but there are hints and anecdotes. For example, we can estimate the optimistic upper limit by profiling outstanding people of various ages. We can also analyze speed records and other performance measures as Alan Jones and his colleagues have done for running. And, although it may not be politically correct, we can look at the affect of drugs and supplements like testosterone -- do they slow our losses? Are they safe?

I will look at each of these -- unusually fit people, data analysis and drugs and supplements -- in future posts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One in eight people 65 and older exercise "vigorously" at least five days a week

According to a US Department of Health and Human Services report on the
Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2002–04 13.8% of people 65 and older exercise vigorously at least five days a week. A breakdown of the data shows that men are more likely to engage in frequent vigorous exercise than women and young people are more likely than old:

18-24 21.612 16.8
45–64 12.3 9.6 10.9
65-74 10.2 7.5 8.7
>=75 7.93.3 5.1

The authors of the 85-page report present other interesting data. For example, they found that the rate of vigorous exercise rises with income and education (which are correlated with age). They also observed differences based on race, region of the country, marital status and whether the respondent is from a metropolitan area, central city or smaller town.

The study defines a "vigorous" activity as one lasting at least 10 minutes and causing heavy sweating or large increases in breathing or heart rate.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sore knees -- use them or lose them -- recovery time from an injury

I had a freak bicycle accident about ten weeks ago. For about four weeks, walking was quite painful and running impossible. I spent four weeks as a couch potato. I began walking after that, but then took a three week cruise. By the end of the cruise, I was able to walk fairly well, and had begun doing some upper-body weight lifting.

I began jogging about two weeks ago, and my legs were quite weak and my knees were stiff and sore. I had expected to be weak, but was surprised by the pain and stiffness in my knees. I had assumed they would have benefited from the rest, but was completely wrong. It is as if some lubricant had dried up as a result of inactivity. There seems to be some feedback mechanism -- perhaps hormonal -- that "decided" I was old and would not be using my knees any more.

After about two weeks of jogging, shooting baskets and doing leg presses, my knees feel about the same as they did before the accident. (I am still weaker than before, but improving).

My knees came back faster than my leg strength, but this seems to be a clear case of use it or lose it.

Short term effects of fatty foods

Everyone knows that a fatty diet causes one to gain weight, form arterial plaque, etc. However, new research shows that fatty foods have a short term effect -- adversely affecting both memory and the ability to exercise.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Questions to ask before starting to work out with weights

A friend recently asked me to help him get started with weight lifting. He trains regularly on a treadmill, but has never done strength training. My first impulse was to invite him to follow me around while I showed him various exercises, but, on second thought, he needs to answer two questions first.

Which muscle groups do you want to strengthen?

These pictures show the main muscle groups. Don't worry about the formal names -- "abs" will do for "rectus abdominus" -- but set some priorities. Do you want to strengthen your legs? Chest? Arms? It would be nice to say "all of the above," but you probably don't want to spend as many hours a week in the gym as the folks in these pictures.

These pictures were taken from, where you can see them with links to diagrams of each muscle. You should go there and familiarize yourself with the muscle illustrations, because, when you do an exercise, you need to be aware of which muscle you are training, and focus on isolating it.

How many days per week will you work out and how much time will you spend each day?

When I worked out at a gym that was far from my house, I went three days a week, and worked my entire body each time. Now that I am working out near my home, I go 5 or 6 days per week, and do different body parts on alternate days. For example, you might do arms and chest one day and legs the other.

If you choose to go only two or three days a week, you will want to spend enough time to do your entire workout. If you do that, alternate body parts, for example biceps and quadriceps, within the workout.

I've never experimented with two-day per week workouts, but I just found one study indicating that it might be as effective to do a long workout two days a week as doing a short workout three days a week. (The study was of relatively young men and (mostly) women). It would be interesting to find more research on the topic and to do some personal experimentation. I doubt that one day per week would do much more than make you sore.

After you get used to the exercises you like for each muscle group, you will see how long it takes and you can adjust your workout accordingly. And, if you get hooked, you can increase the time you spend in the gym.

I've got some good news regarding time -- the time you spend in the gym pays dividends. Your energy and endurance will increase, so you will get more done during your time outside the gym. You can also use a portable audio player to listen to music or words while working out. I listen to a mix of professional conference presentations and NPR programs. Others may prefer books on tape or music. Regardless, it is making dual use of your time in the gym.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why subjective experience is important -- an example

There is an online community of 1,493 retinal detachment patients at I emphasize "patients" because there are no eye-care professionals in the group. If my cataract surgeon had been reading the group, he might have shown me "Catmaster's" recent post stating:
My second RD looks just like the photo (below). While the first RD stayed, the second would disappear. I was hoping it was an artifact from the cataract surgery, but it was not.
His second RD was like mine -- a sub-second black spot. Had I read it, my detachment would have been detected at least a week before it was -- before the fleeting shadow became a permanent blotch. Perhaps I could have avoided the scleral buckle. Perhaps I could have avoided the vitrectomy. Perhaps there would have been less retinal damage. Perhaps the odds of a recurrence would have been lower.

Monday, September 03, 2007

We need detailed descriptions of subjective experience

Our symptom vocabulary is very poor. We need detailed descriptions of subjective experience. I have been told to watch for "floaters," "light flashes," and "curtains" and heard about "flickers." But, since my surgeon has never had a detached retina, she is not able to elaborate on what, say, a light flash looks like, how long it lasts, how often they appear, how large they are, the feeling, if any, that accompanies them, etc. I am worried that the "dots" I mentioned in the previous post might be "flashes."

Only patients can provide us with detailed verbal and drawn descriptions of the symptoms. For example, I did a Google search for a drawing of a floater. I found many diagrams of eyes, but no artistic patient seems to have drawn a floater and posted it on the Web.

Small white dots moving at random in my field of vision

My vision continues to improve, but on August 31, I noticed what looked like a swarm of very small white dots darting about in the center of my field of vision. They moved in a pretty random fashion -- like the traces in particle accelerator photos. They were very faint, and I only noticed them when working on my laptop when the backlit screen was white.

During the last couple of days, they have increased in number, and now cover a greater area in my field of vision. I can now see them when looking around at light colored objects, but that may be due to increased attention on my part. They are still quite faint, and do not impair my vision in practical terms. However, they are worrisome since they remain in the center of my field of vision, perhaps indicating a macular problem. I've sent my surgeon a couple of emails, but have not heard back so perhaps she thinks it is unimportant.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Subjective experience two weeks after surgery

A. The remaining gas bubble. The bubble appears to be opaque (black) around edges, and that tapers off pretty rapidly to a somewhat greenish-grey translucent center. It is now small enough that, if I hold my head parallel to the ground, it becomes a circle in the center of my field of vision and I can see all around it. It shrinks noticeably every day. (One notices the difference after sleeping).

B. The sides are relatively clear; however, there is a milky white haze relative to my left (good) eye. Focus is poor, but I could easily read the larger letters on the eye chart.

C. The central area above (from my perspective) the bubble is similar to B in focus and color, but adds reflections as if being viewed under a little water. I suspect that is reflection from the bubble and that once the bubble is completely gone, my vision will be like area B.

As the bubble recedes, I see some very faint floaters -- particularly if I jiggle the bubble -- for example in brushing my teeth or walking. The surgeon is not concerned -- no need to panic, but check with your surgeon if you see any.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Check out Joe Henderson's weekly commentary on running

Joe Henderson writes about running and life in books and as a columnist for Runner's World magazine. He also publishes a weekly commentary which you can subscribe to by email. Joe has been around long enough that much of his writing is about older athletes.

For example, the current commentary is on author Paul Reese who ran into his 80s. Another commentary is a tribute to George Sheehan who ran competitively and wrote eloquently about it until age 74.

(It seems that some old runners are also inspiring writers. Does running induce reflection? Do thoughtful people tend to turn to running for exercise?)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Recovery begins

This blog has been hijacked by my detached retina. Time to change the subject.

I walked 2.4 miles today. I walked slowly, kept my head down a lot, and kept an eye on my eye. Pretty lame, but it was my first exercise since this began.

Obsessive observations

The surgeon asked me to report changes, and I spend a lot of time observing my vision. I hope this diminishes with time.

The gas bubble in my eye now covers about half of the field of vision. The transparent portion has a distinctly white haze over it relative to my good eye. I don't think it is getting denser, but cannot be 100% sure. I wonder if that is caused by poor focus, the clouding of the back of the lens that I have read about or something else. Will it pass?

The clear area is full of reflections -- like being under water -- which I hope will clear up when the gas bubble is gone. The gas bubble also jiggles whenever I move, even when I brush my teeth.

I also noticed that when my face is parallel to the floor -- so I am seeing through the bubble -- and I have a patch over my eye, I can see a faint discoloration where the detachment was. It shows up a bit stronger when I move my eye or take a step. This is a subtle change, but, as I said, I am kind of obsessed for the time being.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The long term looks good, but for now I remain a couch potato

I saw the surgeon today, and she says the retina is attached and doing well. She also assures me that I can go back to heavy training at the end of the process. I mentioned things like dead lifts and leg presses on a machine where one's feet are elevated, and she said "no problem."

For the next three weeks, I am to remain a couch potato. I am slipping rapidly out of shape. The only good part of that is that I will get a chance to see how fast and how completely I can recover.

Her advice is to do nothing that will elevate my heart rate. I guess I will start taking some long, slow walks.

I asked her what the risk mechanism is -- is she afraid of elevated blood pressure, temperature, intra-ocular pressure, acceleration, etc., but got no answer -- just repetition of the admonition to keep my heart rate low. I think I could be a more effective and less worried patient if I had a better understanding of her model of the eye and healing process, but the system does not allow her time to teach me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Can I remain "athletic?"

My vision is still very blurry, but I am assuming that is due to correctable focus problems, not retinal disease. So, my attention is turning to the future -- will I be able to remain "athletic?" The following questions come to mind:
  1. Given the nature of the detachment and its cause, is my right retina more likely to detach now than it was before?
  2. Will there be some time period after which detachment is no more likely than before?
  3. I was told that the risk of detachment from cataract surgery was less than one in one thousand. Assuming that that is the overall rate, what is the rate for someone my age, with my degree of myopia and level of physical activity? (I have even read that being of Jewish descent increases the probability of retinal detachment).
  4. It has been a couple of months since my left eye was operated on. Is my risk of retinal detachment still elevated? Will it ever be as low as it was before the cataract surgery?
  5. Is it certain that walking home from UCLA did not precipitate the second detachment? Is it safe to walk now? At what rate and for what duration?
  6. What are the mechanisms through which various forms of exercise cause detachment -- jarring, straining, physical contact, etc? Specifically, I am interested in the risks of heavy weight lifting, running, swimming and hard bike riding. What about a sport injury such as a bike crash?
  7. Are some weight lifting exercises more dangerous than others -- for example using a squat machine in which one's legs are elevated or dead lifts where one lifts a weight from the floor?
  8. Have there been studies of masters athletes, for example members of national track or swimming associations or senior Olympic competitors?
  9. Are there warning signs that I could watch for during exercise, and, if so, would immediately stopping be sufficient?
  10. Are there warning signs that can be detected during a retinal examination? If so, would it be possible to resume vigorous exercise and have regular (quarterly? monthly?) retinal exams?
  11. I was told there was close to thirty percent chance that the capsule behind my implant would cloud over. If that occurs, would fixing it be likely to detach either retina?
  12. What sort of fluid will fill my eye and what is the effect of that? Might it reduce/increase traction -- lower viscosity? greater velocity when accelerated? Are there fluid dynamic models of the inner eye? Have ophthalmologists collaborated with mechanical engineers on this?
  13. What is the effect of the scleral buckle on the likelihood of recurrence?
  14. Why have my physical restrictions been less stringent than anticipated before the surgery? Does that indicate a lower likely hood of re-detachment?
  15. I have been told that there are several types of cataract procedure, each with differing levels of retinal risk. If this is the case, what are those alternatives, and which did I have?
  16. Has the vitreous gel in my left eye shrunk away from the retina, and, if so, what are the implications of that?
  17. Before the cataract surgery, there were more floaters in my right eye than my left, and they were larger and darker. Did that indicate more risk for my right eye?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A non-problem, but let's use the Net

Post-operative patients are a bit compulsive, noticing every change. Yesterday, I noticed that if I stood up fast, slightly diminishing the flow of blood to my head, my right (bad) eye went black for a few seconds. I was afraid that might be the signal of a vascular complication, and called the doctor just to be sure. Her secretary called back about 20 anxious hours later saying it was to be expected and not to worry.

That was a relief. But, what if it had been a problem? How long did it take for my message to get to the surgeon? How long did it take for her to reply? Shouldn't we use the Internet to speed communication between a surgeon and her currently convalescing post-operative patients?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How it looks from in here

The problem began with a milky, irregular shape in the left-lower quadrant. After the first surgery, that area was regular and opaque (a). Just before the second surgery, the opaque area had grown (b). After the second surgery, there were two translucent areas (c). Today there is only one translucent area (d).

My retina seems to be healing

I can only see very blurry colors and shapes -- can barely count the fingers on the hand in front of my face -- but I believe the retina is healing. While the dark area of the bubble remains translucent, the previously opaque area where the retina was detached is nearly transparent now.

Furthermore, I have an eye shield with small perforations. When I look through those perforations, things are a bit sharper, indicating that the problem is in focus, not the retina. Finally, at about 2.5 inches, I can resolve considerable detail -- I can read black letters on a white background. Since I am using drops that dilate my eyes, have swelling, have had the shape of my eye distorted with a scleral buckle, have a lot of liquid on the surface of my eye, etc., it is not surprising that things are out of focus. I wonder what the long term effect of having had my vitreous gel removed will be? What is replacing it?

Something positive

I've been complaining like crazy -- time for something nice. During my second surgery, I was sedated, but could hear the surgical team converse. The highlight for me was hearing them discuss a recent journal article in the context of my surgery. I've been seen by doctors who struck me as non-intellectuals who practiced handbook medicine and probably got most of their continuing education from drug companies. Doctors who had not read the articles I had found on-line, and were not interested in my sending them copies. These young physicians are involved professionals.


I should not have had the cataract surgery on my right eye in the first place. The cataract on my left eye had grown quite bad, and really did need to be removed, but my right eye was not so bad. After the first surgery, I could see well with my left eye, and my right eye was myopic. I could read, work at the computer, drive, etc. just fine. I should have questioned the surgeon's assumption that the right lens should be replaced.

Prior to the operation, the risks were outlined in message video taped by the surgeon. In the section of the tape labeled "Risks and Complications" he states:
Cataract surgery is surgery, and there is a small chance that things can go wrong or not turn out the way we want them to. The two most significant risks of cataract surgery are infection and retinal detachment. The numerical odds of those problems are in the one in a thousand range. In my hands the actual risk of infection has been lower than one in a thousand and the same for retinal detachment, but they are in that range and they are real serious problems. If they occur, we have to take care of them, there is no option. We cannot sort of sit on them and watch them, we have to manage them. And even with a complication we can get good results.
I understood that there was a risk of detachment with cataract surgery, but was not told that the risk increased with age and degree of myopia. What is the detachment rate for 67 year-olds who are as myopic and physically active as I was? I still don't know.

The video mentions several other possible complications including "the capsule behind the implant clouding over -- in fact that one is almost a 30 percent chance and that is a simple thing to fix." I wonder if that fix, if necessary, will risk re-detachment of my retina.

I went for a two-week follow up examination after cataract surgery on my right eye. I told the surgeon that my vision was significantly worse -- blurrier and less bright -- than the left eye, and had been plateaued since a few days after the surgery. I suggested that this might be due to manufacturing variance in the implants, which he said was extremely unlikely. My relative inability to read the eye charts confirmed that my vision was both dim and out of focus. I told the surgeon that I was not able to read using the drugstore reading glasses he had recommended. He was puzzled by that, but did not follow up. Was that an indication that the problem was not due to a faulty lens or swollen eye, but the retina? I also mentioned that I thought I was catching "glimpses of my nose" in my peripheral vision.

The surgeon said the poor vision was probably caused by inflammation and prescribed different eye drops. He shrugged off the mention of seeing my nose -- said he had never heard that one before. In retrospect, that was the start of a detached retina. Should he have been suspicious and sent me for a retinal exam?

The surgeon's reaction to my "seeing my nose" or not benefiting from reading glasses reflects inattention to the patient's subjective state. He has never had the subjective experience of a retinal detachment. Did his training attempt to convey that experience to him? He should have read descriptions of retinal detachment by patients. He should have looked at patient's drawings of what it looks like.

Cataract patients should read the same accounts and see the same drawings. Like the surgeon, we are unfamiliar with the subjective experience of a detached retina until it is too late.

Why didn't my poor vision worry the surgeon? I suspect that is a combination of hubris, "knowing" the statistics, and inattention exacerbated by the fact that he does many operations each day, and schedules only about five minutes for the two-week post operative examination.

One or two days after my two-week follow up, I woke up seeing a watery-opaque area in the lower-left quadrant of the field of vision in my right eye. I went to the clinic, and received an emergency scleral buckle. Since then, I have read that a scleral buckle may be accompanied by the draining of the fluid from behind the detachment and the injection of a gas bubble into the eye. Would one or both of these steps have prevented my second surgery?

I went for an early-morning post operative exam a few days later. The surgeon was worried about the lack of improvement. She contemplated injecting a gas bubble at that time, but decided instead to wait two days. When I asked her whether I could walk home or should call my wife to pick me up, she replied that there would be no harm in walking as long as I did not exert myself to the point of elevating my heart rate. I walked home (downhill) very slowly. Might that have caused the detachment to spread?

A few hours later, the opaque area extended into the upper left quadrant of my field of vision, and a second emergency surgery was performed. Could that have been avoided by injection of the gas bubble earlier in the morning?

The first night after the second surgery, I was instructed to lie on my stomach with my face parallel to the floor until I returned the next day for a post operative examination. That is a very uncomfortable position, and maintaining it all night was very difficult. But I was able to do so with the help of some foam rubber cushions my daughters picked up at a drug store. It would have been impossible otherwise. Why didn't they give me such a cushion when I went home after the surgery? They would have given me a crutch if I had a broken leg wouldn't they?

The patch was removed from my eye the day after the second surgery. The area that had been opaque -- the left side of my field of vision -- was improved. It was still discolored, but translucent, not opaque. However, a second translucent area had appeared across the top of my field of vision. That scared the shit out of me. I told the surgeon, but she said she could see nothing wrong and told me not to worry. (Right). The next day, the original area showed some improvement, but not the new area on top. I called and left a message to that effect. Many hours later, another doctor called to say that I should quit worrying. The next morning I made a subjective discovery. The darkened area was not fixed at the top of my field of vision -- it moved to the side if I tilted my head. It was the gas bubble! That was a great relief, but why hadn't I been told that in the first place? I don't think the surgeon was being insensitive. I think she had not been trained on the subjective experience of the patient. I am better trained to support post operative patients than she in some ways.

I have also encountered a small "catch-22." I was frightened after the second surgery, and worried that I might not be able to sleep well. I asked the surgeon for a sleeping pill prescription, but she said I would have to ask my general practitioner. The general practitioner also refused, telling me to ask the surgeon. I ended up taking a Tylenol PM. Who is my "physician?" I wonder how Paris Hilton gets her drugs?

Every day, many people have retinal detachments repaired. We are experts in the subjective experience. The Internet excels in providing a meeting place for communities of common interest. Why was I not given the address of an online patient-support group before I agreed to cataract surgery? Why was I not given the address of an online patient-support group once my retina was detached? Why doesn't the surgeon use the Internet to stay in contact with the dynamic group of currently convalescing post-operative patients?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Feeling old

No two ways about it -- a side effect of a serious injury or illness is that it reminds you that you are old, frail, and mortal. There is a saying -- "if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans." I can touch envy of youth for the first time. Adios, denial

Anxious dreams

This detached retina has invaded my dreams. Last night I dreamt I was at the Senior Olympics, but expected to finish last and also kept getting mixed up on the schedule and missing events. Finally, I dreamt I ran a dash, and woke up afraid that the excertion may have damaged my retina. Total anxiety and fear dreams.

Use it or lose it

I have been a gym rat since my undergraduate days at UCLA. I stopped working out for a few years after graduation, but came back to the gym in the early 1970s and have worked out regularly -- typically 6 hours per week -- ever since. Until my retina detached, I don't think I went more than one week without at least one heavy workout in all that time. On off days, I would typically jog or do a hard training ride on my bike.

The most strenous thing I have done in the last two weeks is walk a few blocks.

Well, I am going a bit nuts. I was addicted to exercise. I always felt great -- rejuvenated -- after a workout, but the addiction was not all positive. I think I was also afraid to skip workouts -- afraid to lose it. If my eye heals, and I can resume training, it will be interesting to see if I can come back and, if so, how long it takes.

If things go well, I have to wait two months to resume training. Hopefully I will be able to do some exercise before that. Right now I am not allowed to bend over, lie on my back, lift anything heavier than five pounds or walk fast enough to raise my heart rate. (The first night I had to stay up all night lying on my stomach with my face parallel to the floor to keep the gas bubble floating against the retina).

Two weeks of inactivity have already taken a toll -- most notably on my legs. They are smaller and the thigh muscles are less defined. Abs too. Less deterioration of the upper body. More important, my legs feel very weak. I think this is also bad for my heart. I feel some arrhythmia and a little bit of the effect of being low on oxygen. That may contribute to the feeling of weakness in my legs. It might be in my head too. I will monitor the comeback if I am able to resume working out. We'll see how long it takes to reach the level I was at two weeks ago, if I can do it. That will be most interesting.

Detached retina

I had a cataract in my left eye repaired at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute about 8 weeks ago. The results were good. Then I had the right one done about three weeks ago. At my two-week post operative visit, the results were poor -- things were a bit dim and out of focus. The surgeon examined me and sent me home with a prescription for different eye-drops. The next day, the lower-left quadrant of my vision clouded over. I went back to UCLA, and a few minutes into the examination, the retinal specialist asked me when I had last eaten. My response was "shit" -- I knew she was thinking emergency surgery and I new my retina was detached.

I was frightened in the pre-operation area. My usually 130 mmHg systolic blood pressure went to 178. I was trembling inside my body. My veins receded, making insertion of an IV needle difficult. It was fright, not flight.

The surgery went well. They installed a scleral buckle -- a flexible band placed around the equator of the eye behind the tear, but did not drain the fluid under it or insert a gas bubble. The cloudy area became opaque. A few days later -- hours after a retinal exam -- it began to grow. I went back for a second emergency surgery -- a vitrectomy, replacing the vitreous with a gas bubble. That is where I am now. I can only see shapes. One is the bubble, floating at the top of my field of vision. The detached area has faded from opaque to fairly transparent. If nothing goes wrong, I will see the doctor again in five days.

I am still frightened. The prognosis is good, but far from certain. I now know I am prone to retinal detachment -- they keep checking my good eye. My right eye will be even more prone to re-detachment. I could end up blind in one or both eyes. Not many blind athletes around.


The benefits of being an old athlete are clear -- we are fit and capable, look as good as can be expected, and have energy for all sorts of activities -- we trick our minds and bodies into feeling and acting young, and the feedback systems within us tend to make it so. We hide from the knowledge that it will not go on forever -- we will not still be competing triathlons if we live to be 100. And the odds that we live to be 100 are not all that hot.

I was able to think about that hidden knowledge, and still repress the bad feeling until two weeks ago, when I suffered a detached retina as a side effect of cataract surgery. I am now afraid of being blind, and feeling my age. If the surgery is effective, and my sight is restored, will I revert back to a child-like state of forgetful denial, or will I be changed?

I can speak with my head -- going back to denial is a good idea -- it is rational -- there is no use making myself miserable by imagining a grim future. With a little help from Shakespeare, Julius Caesar said it a long time ago -- "The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come." Well, that was my head talking -- the logic is unassailable -- but good luck controlling my feelings and imagination.

I hope I have the chance to reread this in a year and see whether I have returned to denial, and pushed awareness of my frailty down. The other option is really frightening.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Is competion worth it?

Although I train regularly, I have only entered two competitions -- the Carpinteria Triathlon and the Senior Olympics in Pasadena, California.

In the triathlon, I did the sprint course -- 5K ocean swim, 15K nearly flat bike ride and a 5K run. In the senior olympics, I did the 5 and 10K bicycle time trials and bench pressing.

Barring injury, I will do the triathlon again this year, but I am not so sure about the Senior Olympics. I love bike riding -- for training and transportation -- but the bike races were kind of serious. For example, Fritz Tomasello, shown here, is a California State champion. Like Fritz, most of the folks had a couple of expensive racing bikes and other equipment in their trucks and vans. I was the only one with an old steel frame bike. Even worse -- I didn't have a spandex riding outfit -- just a t-shirt and shorts.

Jewett Pattee was another notable competitor. Jewett is a hall of fame racer who has completed the Race across America and five Furnace Creek 508 races. Jewett is a pretty amazing guy -- out on his bike with artificial hips at 83 years old!

The bench press contest was easier going. There were more competitors, and they did not seem quite so focused on winning -- maybe in weight lifting the contest is more against yourself than the other athletes. We ranged from first timers like me to AAU champions, but everyone seemed to cheer everyone else on. Unlike the bike races, equipment is not a factor in weight lifting.

The triathlon is open to all ages, but we were grouped in the starting area by age, so all of the older men got to hang out before the race. There only a few of us, but it was a friendly group. Again, I had the only old bike and rode in running shoes, but I did have a cool wet suit. I was nervous about the swim, having just started swimming a few months earlier, but that turned out to be the most enjoyable part. We started in a bunch, and you could feel the others around you -- like a school of fish. The bike ride was pretty easy -- I paced myself, but still passed a lot of people. The run was tough -- I had to stop and walk to catch my breath frequently. Looking over my split times, it is clear that I need to work on running.

I got a couple of medals from all this, but they are no big deal -- surely not enough to keep me coming back for more. I am hooked on training -- daily workouts -- the way I feel afterward is all the reward I need. The competition is a footnote.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Geezer Jock Magazine and blog

Sean Callahan, editor of Geezer Jock Magazine (the name says it all :-), has a blog called Forever Athletes. Check it for discussions of topics of interest to masters athletes. The Geezer Jock Web site also has forums for magazine subscribers.

Beginning swimming technique

I've never had swimming lessons, so needed to learn a little form to get ready for a sprint triathlon. I searched around on the Web and found some tips that led to significant improvement by learning a bit of technique -- simple things like keeping one hand extended while the other one comes forward and rotating from side to side.

This Grant Hackett video shows what I mean, and this article on keeping your arms extended (by coach Emmett Hines) was very helpful. There is a lot of "how to" material on the Web -- here are links to some other things I have found helpful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Cycling coach, writer, and masters champion Arnie Baker has surveyed many controlled experiments in this article. Baker gives very short summaries of studies in many areas -- nutrition, equipment, training/racing, medicine, psychology, etc.

Sample conclusions are: pacing paid off in a 20 kilometer bike time trial, clipless pedals do not offer a physiological advantage, a fifty percent taper a week before a race is beneficial. Still, the bottom line is that the experimental differences tend to be marginal -- training is still the key.

Baker has written many other books and articles, available at his Web site.

Could we learn by each of us conducting a one-person experiments and reported our results on the Net?

Tapering off before competition

One should obviously taper off their training prior to a competition. I have entered a couple of competitions, and wish I had seen Arnie Baker's recomendations on tapering before the events. Baker advocates a week long taper.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Discussion forum for cyclists who are over 50

I began this blog by describing an informal experiment I did comparing clipless pedals with toe clips. I also posted a summary of the results on a forum for over-50 cyclists. Some folks there thought I underestimated clipless pedals, others disagreed. You can see the entire discussion thread here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thomas Jefferson on exercise

I just read that Thomas Jefferson advised at least two hours per day exercise and drank 3 or 4 glasses of wine a day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Does creatine work?

A 60 year old gym acquaintance who is a physician recommended taking creatine, so I decided to do a little Web research. Most of what I found indicated that creatine helps build strength and muscle.

For example, the article The Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Body Composition, Muscular Strength and Power presents an experiment with 36 female college volleyball players. Sixteen were given creatine and 16 a placebo during a ten week strength training program. The placebo group improved their single rep maximum bench press from 47.4 to 50.3 kilograms while the creatine group improved from 47.6 to 55.2. Another article, Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men, concludes that creatine supplementation, when combined with resistance training, increases lean tissue mass and improves leg strength, endurance, and average power in men of mean age 70 yr.

Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings is a survey article covering studies between 1999 and 2005. Some of the conclusions are:
  • [Creatine] appears to be most effective for activities that involve repeated short bouts of high-intensity physical activity.
  • When maximal force or strength (dynamic or isotonic contractions) is the outcome measure following Cr ingestion, it generally appears that Cr does significantly impact force production regardless of sport, sex or age.
  • The evidence is much more equivocal when investigating isokinetic force production and little evidence exists to support the use of Cr for isometric muscular performance.
  • There is little benefit from Cr ingestion for the prevention or suppression of muscle damage or soreness following muscular activity.
  • When performance is assessed based on intensity and duration of the exercises, there is contradictory evidence relative to both continuous and intermittent endurance activities.
  • Activities that involve jumping, sprinting or cycling generally show improved sport performance following Cr ingestion.
  • There appears to be no strong scientific evidence to support any adverse effects but it should be noted that there have been no studies to date that address the issue of long-term Cr usage.
Another survey, Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Metabolites, Constituents, and Extracts (one article in a six-article series on supplements), reaches similar conclusions. There are also Wikipedia articles on Creatine and Creatine supplements.

Since I am into weight lifting and bike riding, I think I'll give it a try.

The survey I summarized above notes that the most common program involves an initial loading phase of 20 g/day for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 g/day for differing periods of time (1 week to 6 months). A dose calculator advised that I take 3.5 mg per day and skip the initial loading phase since I am over 65. They also recommend combining it with vitamins b6, b12 and folic acid which you can get in one pill at Trader Joe's.

Have you used creatine? Did it work for you?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How much do clipless pedals help?

After riding an old Raleigh Competition road bike for years with sneakers and toe clips, I was curious about clipless pedals. I purchased a set of Look pedals and Shimano shoes, and compared them with my old pedals in two performance tests.

I compared the pedals in two tests on a flat course and two tests on a hill climb. The clipless pedals improved my time by 1.85% on the flat course and 1.9% on a hill climb. The overall difference was 1.88%.

The flat course is a 7.3 kilometer bike path running along a paved creek from West Los Angeles to the beach and the hill climb is 6.9 kilometers, gaining a net of 246 meters between Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.

The prevailing wind on the flat course is from the beach, and I average of 122 seconds more when going toward the beach than on the return leg. Most of the hill climb course is uphill – one climbs 358 meters – but there are short descents of 112 meters.

I did trials on four days. Each day, I rode one of the courses twice at my top speed, changing the pedals between the rides. The results of the four trials were:

Trial 1: I rode the 14.6 km round trip on the flat course using clipless pedals (1,586 seconds), changed the pedals, and then rode it again using pedals with toe clips (1,649 seconds).

Trial 2: I rode the 14.6 km round trip on the flat course using pedals with toe clips (1,595 seconds), changed the pedals, and then rode it again using clipless pedals (1,598 seconds).

Trial 3: I rode the 7 km hill climb using pedals with toe clips (1,823 seconds), rode quickly back down the hill, changed the pedals, and then rode up again using clipless pedals (1,844 seconds).

Trial 4: I rode the 7 km hill climb using clipless pedals (1,815 seconds), rode quickly back down the hill, changed the pedals, and then rode up again using pedals with toe clips (1,907 seconds).

Changing pedals took around five minutes, and the downhill ride about ten minutes.

This table shows the total number of seconds using both pedals on both courses. The bottom line is that the toe clips improved my times, but by less than two percent.

Toe clipCliplessPercent

Of course, you would see different results. I am 67 years old, and riding an old bike -- a Raleigh Competition with steel tubing, Campagnolo derailleurs, and cheesy replacement wheels. There were a few days between each trial. I did not ride those days, but did run or lift weights. One cannot be sure that I rode all-out on every run, though I did my best. (I did not eat or drink between runs, which may have slowed the second leg a bit).

I believe these results are accurate for me. I will compete in a sprint triathlon later this summer. Based upon this experiment, clip on shoes would only save me about 20 seconds on the 10k bike leg, so I will be better off riding in my running shoes using toe clips, and saving the time to change shoes.

This experiment was simple and easy to do, and there could be many variations on the theme. For example, I would like to compare my current bike against a new one. I also pushed my highest gear throughout the flat course – I wonder whether a lower gear would have helped going into the wind.

Are you curious about some variation in your bike or the way you ride? Run an experiment and let us all know how it turns out.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

About this blog

This blog is for the community of athletic seniors -- those of us who are pursuing physical excellence in old age, and are serious about fitness and training. The topic is broad, encompassing many sports and training activities, nutrition, exercise science and medical research, masters competition, and more. In spite of this diversity, I suspect we share common goals and rewards. We feel better for our training -- in body, mind and spirit. To paraphrase George Sheehan, author of Running and Being, we exercise to add life to our years and years to our life.

This is a community blog. I will kick it off, but hope everyone sees themselves as a contributor, not just a reader. What are your passions? Can you offer training or nutrition suggestions or tell us about your sport? Are you organizing or participating in a competition? Have you read something valuable or gotten some new equipment lately? Which Web resources do you find valuable and inspirational? What is of interest in your city? Let us hear from you in comments and blog posts. Send me an email if you are not sure how you can contribute.

Larry Press