Friday, October 07, 2005

Things that make you go, “Huh?”

A standard boilerplate justification for exercise is that it is good for the heart -- as though that was a variable rather than a constant. Heart function is not optional -- in any living animal. It is a hardwired constant. Those who have studied animals across many species, have even noted the not surprising fact that every species seems to have a heart that has about the same finite number of beats over a lifetime. The faster the heart beat, the shorter the life; conversely, the slower the heart beats, the longer the life -- as is borne out by the tortoise, elephants, animals of a slow disposition. The shrew on the other hand, has a heart rate of 1,000 a minute and lives a year. It also burns inordinately greater amounts of energy than most.

Intuitively, what would the lesson be for one interested in a longer life (recognizing that sheer longevity is no guarantee of quality of existence)? Well-conditioned athletes generally have a lower heart rate than less aerobically efficient others. Yet the “target heart rate” mantra, takes nothing into account except one’s arbitrary age in calculating an ideal target -- for everyone! Obviously that can’t be meaningful when the difference between the most aerobically efficient 50 year old and the least aerobically efficient 50 year old, varies more greatly than the most aerobically efficient 50 year old does from the most aerobically efficient 20 year old. The “target heart rate,” was nothing more than arbitrary conjecture and formula that captured the fancy of a public that had no idea or sensibility on the subject of exercise.

Champion athletes do not try to increase their heart rates, sweating, and energy expenditure; they try to do the opposite -- lower their heart rates, increase their composure and tranquility, and make no movement that is unnecessary. That is what is striking in the athletically gifted; they make no movement unless it is absolutely necessary. They do not waste energy; they rest as much as they can -- until the right moment of unleashing all their power in a very focused effort.

People of great efficiency and skill in any field, do the same. The skilled brain surgeon is not hacking away at everything within his reach, as though simply more was better. In golf, bowling, tennis, the fewer attempts indicate greater competence. There is no event in which it would be favorable to elevate one’s heart rate and energy expenditure arbitrarily -- to improve one’s performance. Those would invariably be negatives to optimal functioning -- and optimal functioning is what fitness is all about. That’s what all fit people recognize as self-evident truth.

Meanwhile, most of the people who have these arbitrary notions about exercise, usually have no idea what they are really talking about, and have the results to show for it. Meaningful and obviously favorable results -- would be obvious and apparent -- and not only detectable with precision measuring devices in a special laboratory somewhere. That is the kind of results most are hoping for. Not to have that kind of obviously and easily verifiable reality, should tell one something. Otherwise, all one is doing is deceiving themselves.


At October 08, 2005 9:35 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Slow music is good for the heart, study finds
Tempo affects blood pressure, breathing rate and other key factors

Updated: 5:32 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2005

NEW YORK - A new study shows that listening to music that has a slow or meditative tempo has a relaxing effect on people, slowing their breathing and heart rate, whereas listening to faster music with a more upbeat tempo has the opposite effect — speeding up respiration and heart rate.

The results, which appear in the journal Heart, support a growing body of research on the potential stress-reducing health benefits of music.

Other research has shown that music can alleviate stress, improve athletic performance, improve movement in neurologically impaired patients with stroke or Parkinson’s disease, and even boost milk production in cattle, Dr. Peter Sleight from the University of Oxford and colleagues note in their report.

In the current study, researchers monitored breathing rate, blood pressure and other heart and respiratory indexes, in 24 healthy young men and women, before and while listening to short excerpts of different kinds of music including slow and fast classical music of differing complexities and rap music. They also monitored the subjects during 2-minute musical intermissions.

Half of the subjects were trained musicians; the other half had no musical training.

The investigators report that listening to music initially produced varying levels of arousal — accelerated breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate — that is directly proportional to the tempo of the music and perhaps the complexity of the rhythm.

The style of the music or an individual’s music preference seems less important than the tempo of the music.

They also found that calm is induced by slower rhythms and, interestingly, by short pauses or intermissions in the music.

Pausing the music for 2 minutes actually induces a condition of relaxation greater than that observed before subjects began listening to the music tracks, the investigators report.

These effects are most striking for people who have musical training, perhaps because they have learned to synchronize their breathing with the musical segments. “Musicians breathe faster with faster tempi, and had slower baseline breathing rates than non-musicians,” according to the investigators.

Sleight and coworkers speculate that music may give pleasure (and perhaps health benefits) as a result of a controlled alteration between arousal and relaxation.

The present study suggests, they conclude, that the appropriate selection of music — alternating fast and slower rhythms interspersed with pauses — can be used to induce relaxation and may, therefore, be beneficial in treating heart disease and stroke.


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