Tag Archives: Alex Hutchinson

The New Dietary Guidelines and Running versus Joggling

It seems almost everyone I know is talking about the new dietary guidelines. In large part, this is because they significantly depart from the old recommendations, such as eating a low-fat diet to reduce heart disease risk. This is no longer recommended, since science has found that the type of fat is more important than total fat. They still recommend reducing saturated fat, and reducing meat and animal food consumption to help achieve this. They also recommend reducing animal food consumption for environmental reasons.

Ultimately, what do the new recommendations mean for vegans? Ginny Messina RD has written an excellent post on the new dietary recommendations, The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, What Will They Mean for Vegans?, and I suggest you read it. Her most important point, which I am in full agreement with:

It doesn’t really impact my own advocacy for animals, though. I know very well that findings on nutrition and health are always changing. I know that nutrition research is far more conflicting than concurring. And I don’t see much point to building advocacy around facts that may change tomorrow.


On the subject of joggling, Alex Hutchinson has written an interesting article titled Brain Plasticity in Endurance vs Skill Sports in Runner’s World. Actually, the article doesn’t mention anything about joggling or juggling, but the study he cites implies some extra benefits for joggling over running. I’ve always wanted to know if skill sports were better for brain plasticity than endurance sports, and it seems this article tentatively suggests they are. Of course, any aerobic exercise is good for the brain, but it appears that dancing, or figure skating(or any exercise that involves more complex “gross motor skills”) may provide some extra benefits over running. The same could probably be said about joggling, though I must admit that I am very biased. I also suspect that trail running may be slightly more beneficial for brain plasticity than road running.

So when it comes to exercise, go beyond just trying to improve your endurance or speed, try challenging your coordination and balance in novel ways. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn new tasks, and the better it is for your brain.

Update: Alex Hutchinson wrote an even more interesting follow-up article to the article posted above a few weeks later titled Fighting Cognitive Decline with Dodgeball and Juggling. In this follow-up, he actually does mention juggling as an example of an exercise that involves “gross motor skills” that may provide additional brain benefits over endurance exercise, but not joggling. He wrote this follow-up after he got an email from Nicholas Berryman(a physiologist at the Quebec National Institute of Sport) in response to the first article, who cited 3 scientific papers.

While the cognitive benefits of cardio, and strength training to a lesser extent are already established, and their mechanisms largely understood(increased blood-flow to the brain and increased nerve growth factors when it comes to cardio) according to Hutchinson:

What Berryman pointed out is preliminary evidence for a third mechanism, triggered by gross motor training – things like balance and coordination training, or even learning skills like juggling.

While this is all very fascinating, it is already known that learning just about any skill causes changes in the brain. Learning certain skills, like learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument, is associated with preventing or slowing cognitive decline in many studies. This leads to the question: Does juggling benefit the brain in ways that cardio alone can’t? Besides this, does learning gross motor skills that involve improvements in coordination and balance(juggling, or rock-climbing), benefit the brain more than learning to play an instrument, or learning to play chess?

As Hutchinson points out, the preliminary evidence for additional benefits of gross motor skills is encouraging. However, in the mean time, we shouldn’t have to wait for definitive answers before taking dance or juggling lessons, or going on a rock climbing adventure, if only for the fun of it.

Awesome new book about fitness

I recently read Alex Hutchinson’s “Which comes first, cardio or weights?“, and found it very helpful. Hutchinson is not just a runner and a journalist, he also has a Ph.D. in physics. The book attempts to answer many commonly asked questions about exercise, and uses a science/evidence based approach to answer them. This is the best, most awesomest approach, in my opinion.

When the evidence isn’t clear, he says so. He is very familiar with the latest scientific literature regarding fitness. It is refreshing to read a fitness book based on science; all too often, fitness/health authors push pseudo-scientific ideas that may be useless or even harmful. It is also refreshing that Hutchinson is not using the book to hawk supplements, exercise equipment or videos, which are often intertwined with the pseudo-science the author is pushing.

Among the questions Hutchinson answers are:

1) How much should I drink to avoid dehydration during exercise?

2) Will stretching help me to avoid injuries?

3) Is it possible to be fat and healthy at the same time?

4) Should I have sex the night before a competition?

5) How should I pace myself for a long-distance race?

6) How can I adjust my chakras so I can run faster? (just kidding! This is NOT in the book!)

Among dozens of other common and uncommon questions. Some of the answers may surprise you. For example, scientific studies suggest that stretching does not help prevent injuries – because of this, I almost never stretch anymore.

Besides not wasting precious time stretching, I’ve found a lot of other information in the book beneficial for my fitness routine. While the book doesn’t cover fitness juggling or joggling, the general fitness information it contains may also benefit fitness jugglers. I highly recommend it. I have no connection to the author.

I also recommend reading the scientific literature yourself whenever you can. It won’t be long before this book becomes dated and certain recommendations may even change over time as new scientific evidence comes in.

Happy juggling!