Olympian Poetry

The Parnassus poetry festival in London, one of the arts and culture events organized for the 2012 Olympics, recently brought together poets from around the world.

One of them is Senegal’s Didier Awadi. This is a video of his work called “Dans Mon Revê”

Poetry used to be an essential part of the Olympic Games, going back to ancient Greece, as Tony Perrottet describes in his Sunday New York Times essay.

“In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. (The refined cultural ambience could put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.) Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes.

Criticism could be meted out brutally: when the Sicilian dictator Dionysius presented subpar poems in 384 B.C., disgusted sports fans beat him up and trashed his tent. At other Greek athletic festivals, like those at Delphi, dedicated to Apollo, the god of poetry and music, verse recital was featured as a competitive event, along with contests for the lyre and choral dancing.”

Poetry was actually part of the Olympic competition in the first half of the 20th century with medals being given to poems inspired by sport, Perrottet writes. But the validity of the competition and its ability to attract the top poets was discredited by 1948, and the competition was dropped.

Gatherings like the Olympics  are on such a massive scale that they will always inspire people from all walks of life, so re-inventing ways to showcase other forms of human accomplishment like poetry is a worthwhile endeavor.

I particularly like Perrottet ‘s closing.

“Of course, the ephemeral nature of worldly glory has long been a ripe subject for poets. For this year’s games, a panel of literary experts decided to adorn London’s Olympic Village with a line from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to sum up the gritty determination of the ancient wanderer: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Perhaps more nuanced are the words of Achilles pondering the vagaries of celebrity in Homer’s “Iliad”: “I too shall lie in the dust when I am dead, but now let me win noble renown.” Or as Emily Dickinson more cheerily put it: “Fame is a bee. / It has a song — / It has a sting — / Ah, too, it has a wing.”


Go jogging-and eat carrots – to boost longevity once you hit 70!

Another study has found that exercise – like jogging, walking, or swimming- and consuming vegetables could increase your lifespan once you hit 70. The study, published by Emily J. Nicklett, et al, in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, followed more than 700 women in their 70’s in the Pittsburgh area, over a 5-year period.

“The present study found that physical activity and total serum carotenoids are strong and independent predictors of survival in older women living in the community. This offers preliminary support for the hypothesis that a diet high in fruit and vegetables, as reflected by high total serum carotenoid concentrations, combined with high physical activity would each demonstrate a protective association with 5-year mortality independent of one another. Therefore, exercise and nutrition should both be analyzed when assessing the health and projected life span of older women. Programs and policies to promote longevity should include interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity in older adults.”

The most physically active study participants -in other words, the ones who exercised the most – were nearly twice as likely to survive over the 5-year period as were the sedentary ones.

The authors conclude that even though they’ve shown that exercise and carotenoid intake will prolong life,

“…further work is required to validate and extend these findings in other populations so that appropriate groups can be targeted for interventions that incorporate diet and physical activity. The implications of this work are that interventions should combine improvements in diet and physical activity—rather than examine changes in isolation—to improve survival in older populations.”

Swim around the world

Rare is the time when I post simply to promote another website, but this one is consistent with the very purpose of my blog! I’ve discovered the Swimmers Guide, a site for lap swimmers who want to find a decent public pool wherever they travel in the world. This is how they explain their existence:

“In our many years of traveling, we were never able to find a single, half-decent, half-way reliable resource for finding swimming pools away from home. (Or near home, either, for that matter.) So we’ve set out to be something of a Google for swimming pools. In our spare time, we search the ‘Net for information about places to swim around the world, catalog what we find, add it to the database, and share it with the world.

Taking whatever we can find on the ‘Net, together with what other swimmers have sent us, we’ve compiled the most comprehensive swimming pool-finding resource ever created. Does that sound boastful? In a word: “Yes”; but it’s also absolutely true!”

So far, they’ve built a list of more than 20-thousand pools in 10-thousand plus cities — in 68 countries. What a fantastic way to use the evolving information highway.

Born a champion? Or can you build one?

A recent study out of Britain suggests that genetics are an important factor in determining who will be champ. Designing the ultimate training program is not enough. This is from the abstract of the study by Ross Tucker and Malcolm Collins, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine:

“The authors conclude that although deliberate training and other environmental factors are critical for elite performance, they cannot by themselves produce an elite athlete. Rather, individual performance thresholds are determined by our genetic make-up, and training can be defined as the process by which genetic potential is realised. Although the specific details are currently unknown, the current scientific literature clearly indicates that both nurture and nature are involved in determining elite athletic performance. In conclusion, elite sporting performance is the result of the interaction between genetic and training factors, with the result that both talent identification and management systems to facilitate optimal training are crucial to sporting success.”

The authors also seem to be suggesting that training practices and volumes might have to be tailored to one’s genetic make-up and potential — which challenges many existing practices featuring standardized training regimens across elite groups.

This is from their conclusion:

“However, future work is required to elucidate the biological processes that may be associated with these potential differences. In conclusion, elite sporting performance is the result of the interaction between genetic and training factors, with the result that both talent identification and management systems to facilitate optimal training are crucial to sporting success. The traditional methods used by coaches for talent identification should be used before any genetic testing, because performance is multifactorial and therefore there is always the possibility that the genetic profile, no matter how detailed, may miss a crucial DNA variant or non-genetic factor that enhances performance.”

Exercise-not just about the weight loss

How many people do you know who’ve given up an exercise program when the weight doesn’t come off immediately? Too many, I’m sure.

Now, there’s yet another study showing that there are benefits to exercise, even when the stones aren’t dropping.

The Journal of the American Medical association (JAMA) published a piece this week extolling the benefits of exercise for diabetes patients. The opinion,  released to coincide with the 72nd annual Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association,  suggests that even moderate exercise can help treat diabetes caused by obesity. Here’s a portion of that report:

“There’s long-standing evidence that physical fitness can help people live longer, even those who carry too many pounds. Seminal research by Steven Blair, PED (then at the CooperInstitute of Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas) and colleagues found that cardiovascular fitness is strongly associated with improved survival and is independent of body weight (Blair SN et al. JAMA. 1989;262[17]:2395-2401). Further studies have extended these findings, showing that physical fitness is closely associated with diabetes, also independent of body fatness.

There is a dramatic, steep increase in mortality among patients with very low fitness scores. “Actually, it is not fitness we are concerned about but rather low fitness,” said Carl Lavie, MD, of the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, who spoke at a symposium on the importance of fitness on the pathophysiology and treatment of diabetes. Although both fitness and fatness are important, cardiorespiratory fitness greatly modifies the association of obesity with death due to cardiovascular disease, he said.

The underlying mechanism, explained John Thyfault, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the University of Missouri, appears to be the key role that that muscle plays in how the body processes glucose. The best indicator for the risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease is the glucose response when food is consumed. The release of insulin following food ingestion facilitates glucose transport into muscle and fat and inhibits a mechanism the body uses to keep blood glucose levels from dropping too low, hepatic gluconeogenesis (the generation of glucose in the liver from substances other than carbohydrates, such as lactate). About 80% of circulating glucose is transported into muscle, making it the most important organ in maintaining proper glucose levels.”

The researchers conclude that some of the benefit of exercise in patients with diabetes comes from NOT being sedentary, and not necessarily from being superfit. They also suggest that resistance and strength training are also important in improving the health of diabetics.

Exercise in coping with cancer


David Haas is a contributing writer to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. In this Guest Post, he writes about how important exercise can be for people who are living with cancer:

By David Haas

Successful Cancer Intervention Includes Exercise

When going through cancer, finding the motivation to make the right choices about health and nutrition can be rough. Feeling exhausted and depressed can drain the energy you need to integrate exercise and a healthy diet into your life. Studies show that regular physical activity can improve energy levels, reduce the side effects of treatment, and give you more independence. When your well-being is sagging, it’s difficult to focus on what’s best.

Fighting cancer takes strong will and determination. It requires you to take a hard look at your daily habits and current lifestyle and then to make changes that will improve your chances to survive. That isn’t easy; nothing about cancer is easy. Although your body might feel weakened, exercise increases both stamina and strength.

In a study carried out by the Stanford Prevention Research Center, 400 cancer patients participated in an exercise tracking process that measured physical improvement. The computerized tracking device called FitLinxx allowed researchers to receive instant feedback on a variety of factors such as the number of reps involved and the participant’s position.

In addition to the positive physical changes of improved strength and flexibility, study participants reported improvements in their stress level, mood, vitality and fatigue. Exercise literally made them feel better. The majority of the participants had breast cancer, but those going through colon, prostate, ovarian, lymphoma, lung and other cancers were also included. That points to exercise as being a beneficial component of a successful fight against cancer including aggressive conditions such as pancreas and mesothelioma cancer.

Increase Activity Level Early

An active lifestyle is important for everyone. It helps to reduce the risk factors that lead to cancer, improves the quality of life for those going through therapy programs, and helps to increase the chances that cancer won’t return. Exercise improves the body’s immune system function and can help decrease body fat through improving insulin resistance and lowering inflammation markers. It can smooth out unbalanced hormone levels and improve musculoskeletal weakness.

Early intervention is a key factor in preventing the problems that can result as muscles weaken. It’s easier to maintain endurance, strength and range of motion than it is to regain it. Even so, it’s never too late to begin increasing your activity level. In fact, it’s recommended that you begin upping your exercise as soon as you receive your cancer diagnosis to physically prepare you for treatment.

Exercise works to improve your metabolism, normalize appetite, and helps your body to detox from drug by-products. It relieves the tension that therapy places on the body and gives you an emotional boost to help cope with treatment side effects. Overall, increased activity and exercise encourages healing, and healing is what it takes to survive.

Overcoming Fatigue

When it comes to gaining motivation, the fatigue that comes from cancer treatments can work against you. The ups and downs affect your psychological well-being and provide excuses to remain inactive. The degree and consistency of these exhaustion patterns depends on the type of treatment you’re going through, but overcoming the problem is universal.

Although reaching for a handful of supplements that promise to boost your energy might be your first instinct, exercise is best. It gives your body cells more energy and helps to circulate oxygen. Exercise also encourages the brain to release stress hormones that can leave you feeling energized. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. If your body isn’t adequately hydrated, the major symptom of dehydration is fatigue.

Exercise is Something You Can Control

Cancer is not a lonely disease. Research indicates that about 40 percent of the world’s population will develop cancer at some point in their life. That makes it an important topic to learn about and discuss. Knowledge brings power. That power can change your life for the better and have a very real effect on the outcome of your prevention, diagnosis, and survival. According to Murray University, a greater majority of cancer deaths are related to negative lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, and inactivity. These negative factors play a heavy role in producing fatigue. While fatigue can quickly interfere with your motivation to exercise, unlike cancer itself, diet and exercise are things you can control.

David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to the people who visit the MCA’s website, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the MCA, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.

Jogging with your best drone friend – the joggobot

The joggobot is a drone designed to run in front of runners. Why exactly? Im not sure.

I’m a runner who enjoys my time alone on long outings. So I’m perplexed by researchers who’ve developed a flying robot to keep runners company when they can’t find a partner to hit the road with. Here’s how Forbes is reporting on it:

Runners, you no longer have to convince your reluctant partner to put on sneaks and hit the streets with you, thanks to my new favorite drone: the Joggobot, a companion robot for runners. Using a built-in camera, the autonomous drone hones in on sensors in a custom shirt and exhorts you to keep up with it.

“People might feel chased if the Joggobot was behind them,” says researcher Eberhard Grather in a video.  So instead your little drone friend  flies in front of you.

Floyd Mueller and Grather, researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, tricked out the Parrot AR Drone, which is usually operated with a smartphone, to fly autonomously. You can set it for companion mode — in which the drone flies at a steady pace — or coach mode, “which sets a slightly more challenging speed,” reports WiredUK. (Coach mode sounds suspiciously like the fake rabbit used on dog race tracks.)”

In case you’re wondering, the batteries only last 20 minutes. So you won’t get too far with your best drone friend. The biggest problem I see with this is the number of people out in front of me on a run who will get nailed in the back of the head by the drone. Also, are that many runners out there looking for a flying friend? Why, why, why?

This isn’t my bag baby, but I must say that I enjoyed watching the promotional video for the product, because the flying robot thing looks pretty cool for someone born in the 60’s and raised on shows like the Jetsons.