Monday, February 25, 2008

Catholics exercise every Sunday

Whenever I've brought non-Catholics to Mass, I always hear the remark about all the standing, sitting, kneeling, and more standing. I try to explain the reasoning behind the different postures for prayer, but this report from adds a new twist:

Scientists Say Just Standing Up May Be as Important as Exercise

Scientists have found intriguing evidence that one major reason so many people are overweight these days may be as close as the seat of their pants. Literally. According to the researchers, most of us sit too much.

In most cases, exercise alone, according to a team of scientists at the University of Missouri, isn't enough to take off those added pounds. The problem, they say, is that all the stuff we've heard the last few years about weight control left one key factor out of the equation. When we sit, the researchers found, the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat just shut down.

This goes way beyond the common sense assumption that people who sit too much are less active and thus less able to keep their weight under control. It turns out that sitting for hours at a time, as so many of us do in these days of ubiquitous computers and electronic games and 24-hour television, attacks the body in ways that have not been well understood.

The Need to Putter

"It was hard to believe at first," said Marc Hamilton, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of the research team. He said the team didn't expect to find a strong signal when they began researching what happens to fat when we remain seated. But the effect, both in laboratory animals and humans, turned out to be huge.

The solution, Hamilton said, is to stand up and "putter."

The research was published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes, and it will be presented by Hamilton's post-doctoral researcher, Theodore Zderic, at the upcoming Second International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health in Amsterdam.

Hamilton is not suggesting that anyone quit exercising. But he says his work shows that exercise alone won't get the job done. We have to pay more attention to what's happening when we aren't in the gym, because the body's ability to dispose of fat virtually shuts down, he says, at least if we're sitting down.

Hamilton recruited a few laboratory rats and pigs, as well as about a dozen human volunteers, including himself, to learn more about the physiological effect of sitting. The lab animals laid the foundation for the research in two different experiments. The animals were injected with a small amount of fat that contained a radioactive tracer so the researchers could determine what happened to the fat.

"What's the fate of that fat?" Hamilton asked during a telephone interview. "Is it burned up by the muscle?"

The radioactive tracer revealed that when the animals were sitting down, the fat did not remain in the blood vessels that pass through the muscles, where it could be burned. Instead, it was captured by the adipose tissue, a type of connective tissue where globules of fat are stored. That tissue is found around organs such as the kidneys, so it's not really where you want to see the fat end up.

The researchers also took a close look at a fat-splitting enzyme, called lipase, that is critical to the body's ability to break down fat.

After the animals remained seated for several hours, "the enzyme was suppressed down to 10 percent of normal," Hamilton said. "It's just virtually shut off."

The results from the animal studies were very convincing, he said, and human experiments were just as compelling. The researchers injected a small needle into the muscles of the human volunteers and extracted a small sample for biopsy. Once again, the enzyme was suppressed while the humans remained seated. That resulted in retention of fat, and it also resulted in lower HDL, the "good cholesterol," and an overall reduction in the metabolic rate.

You Need to Move Those Legs

The implications, Hamilton said, are clear. While much thought has been given to the good effects of regular exercise, scientists have not paid enough attention to what happens during the rest of the time when we may be fairly active but are probably sitting too much. That could help explain the rising tide of obesity, because people tend to sit more these days than they did a half century ago. Not to mention eating too much and getting precious little exercise.

Some might argue that playing video games, or even working at the computer, involves movement of the upper body, especially the hands and arms, so that's not really inactive. But Hamilton counters that arms don't weigh very much, and the big muscles in the human body which are so critical to burning fat are located in our legs and back.

"When we think about the postural muscles that are mostly in the legs and back, these are big, powerful muscles," he said. "We're talking probably 20 pounds of muscle in each leg. That's a lot of muscle that can be engaged in routine activities," including burning fat. But they can't do that without the enzyme that is suppressed while seated.

Much is still not known, including such fundamental issues as how long the effect lasts from getting up and moving around for a while, but Hamilton expects the answers to come fairly soon.

"There is going to be a flood of research on this in the next couple of years, and not just by us," he said. "This has raised the attention of a lot of great scientists around the world who have begun doing their own studies."

In the meantime, he suggests, we do the obvious. Take the time to get up and "putter" for a while. If his research turns out to be on the mark, it could save your life.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On February 18, 2008...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Monday, February 18th, 2008 . . .

This Monday, February 18th, 2008 Wendy and I will embark on our journey to break a World Record. As the Muslims say, insha'allah. God-willing.

Tonight I read the story of Clarence and Mayme Vail who got married back during the Presidency of Calvin Coolidge and are still going strong. Mayme's advice on building a strong marriage? "You've got to have patience."

It's hard to imagine anyone looking back at our wedding year and saying in amazement, "You got married when George W. Bush was President?!?!?!" Though, I guess that can probably be said about a year from now too (perhaps with a different tone).

In any case, read about this very sweet story at The Catholic Spirit.

And, since this will probably be my last post as a bachelor, wish me luck. Say a prayer for us. I'll see you on the flipside . . . as a married man.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rabbi Bachman says, "Get to church."

Bringing peace does not only involve donation of money to help end hunger and poverty. Nor does it only involve working on large-scale social issues. Sometimes it makes a world of difference to make a difference in just one soul.

I'm sure Rabbi Bachman has a lot of anecdotes from his life as a clergyman in New York City. This one is touching and I'm sure that Zeke will get around to visiting Church soon. Sometimes all it takes is a little reminder from a rabbi:

For the second time in a month, I couldn’t get the keys to work in our car. Apparently, some kind of computerized and magnetized process, encoded inside the keys to match a reading inside the ignition, was not working. It wasn’t in sync. The first time around, I had to pay the dealer around $95 to cut new keys and re-program the ignition, causing me more of a headache than anything else. Mainly it had to do with a security feature I wasn’t ever quite aware of until it broke down and made me realize I never would have requested it in the first place.

But the second time, I was even more annoyed. It had happened last week, just as I finished a visit with a family to plan a funeral. The day was bitter cold; the death, even worse. And I was sad and drained. To walk outside only to discover that the car didn’t work was somehow a fitting end to the day. Rather than take a cab, it seemed right to brace the unsympathetic winds and walk the distance, thinking of the weight of responsibility of the days ahead.

I had to borrow a car to head to the burial the next day, a minor inconvenience, and plotted all week long to get back to the car in order to arrange for it to be towed so I could get myself some new keys, yet again.

That moment finally came last night. Again, the cold was all around; rain clouds had begun to gather; and I was feeling generally annoyed. AAA arrived–keeping me posted with calls at five minute intervals (great customer service, I’ll add here) and then the driver pulled up. He was a young man, in a Yankees hat, and together he and I set to pushing my car out of the spot it was in so we could hook it up to the tow. “Stay low, brother, stay low,” he offered as we pushed car back and then out of its spot.

When we were finally read to roll, he said, “So you’re clergy–I noticed the sign in the window.”

“Yeah,” I said. “A rabbi.”

“A rabbi? Well alright. Doing the Lord’s work.”

And then the following fifteen minutes consisted of a streetside confession–less rabbi, more priest.

I learned about the Church he attends (when he’s not driving so much) the foods he eats (when he’s not thinking so much) and the women he chases (when he’s not praying so much). He seemed genuinely Lost in a Flood. And the wind was blowing, and the rain was getting ready to fall, and there was an urgency to his words–as if in saying them he was seeking a healing long overdue.

But he kept doubting his ability to overcome. He wouldn’t listen to my pleas for patience, for being kind to himself, for heading back to Church on Sunday no matter what. I held his hand as he reached out for me and said, “What’s your name?” (just as I remembered the famous Midrash about the Children of Israel being saved from Egypt because they remembered their Hebrew names.)

“Zeke,” he said.

“Like the Prophet Ezekiel, who dreamed of angels,” I replied. “Your name carries in its meaning the virtue of an angel. Did you know our rabbis teach us that God saved the Jewish people from Egypt because they remembered their Hebrew names?”

He stared back at me and I at him. But for the broken keys in one chariot, I never would have come face to face with Zeke in his Chariot, rigged up to tow cars on winter nights in Brooklyn.

I urged him to take Sunday off; get to church. “You have to rest, brother. It’s a commandment.”

“Saved just because of their names?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s powerful to know that, rabbi,” said Zeke. “I’ll be in touch.”

With whom, I suppose, depends upon where he ends up Sunday morning.