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True or False: Riding a bike can increase your risk for erectile dysfunction?

Posted on August 14, 2017

True.                   myth-9-bike-seat

MY WIFE AND I are what I consider moderate recreational cyclists. Years ago when we were first married—and a bit more adventurous—we did a fair amount of mountain biking in the hills of upstate New York and the beautiful western slopes of Colorado.

Now we enjoy hitting the bike trail near our house once or twice a week and going on round-trip rides that usually range from 15–20 miles. Although we are not cycling fanatics, I have to admit that I had a slight panic attack when I first started researching this topic, wondering if our cycling outings were putting me at risk for erectile dysfunction, commonly referred to as ED. Most fitness and wellness experts confirm that riding a bike is great exercise. Bike riding can help us burn calories and maintain our optimal weight, help maintain or improve our cardiorespiratory fitness level, and help tone and firm muscles in our lower body and midsection.

Riding a bike can also have a positive impact on the environment (decreased emissions from vehicles, for example) and on your wallet (less money spent on gas and parking). Some people even choose to not own a car, making their bicycle their sole means of transportation. I say great for them!

Although cycling is a wonderful form of exercise that is generally considered safe, there are risks associated with cycling just as there are with most forms of physically activity. Riders sometimes incur non-traumatic injuries to the knee, neck, shoulder, wrist, hand and back. Current research also sug gests that cycling might put some male riders at risk for ED.

Simply defined, ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection during sexual activity. So what is it about cycling that could lead to ED? Cycling might lead to a reduction in blood and nerve supply in the perineal region (area between the scrotum and anus), resulting in reduced blood flow and sensation to the penis. Roughly 5% of cyclists suffer from ED; however, this number could be higher, as some men might be reluctant or embarrassed to talk about the condition.

Sommer and colleagues (2010) published a literature review in the Journal of Sexual Medicine on this topic, where the authors state, “There is a significant relationship between cycling-induced perineal compression leading to vascular, endothelial, and neurogenic dysfunction in men and the development of ED.”

So as you spend more time on your bike, your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction increases. However, the authors also state that they strongly recommend engaging in moderate, safe and reasonable bike  riding.

I could not find a specific recommendation for what is considered a safe number of daily or weekly hours for male bicycle riders. A lot depends on differences in equipment, anatomy, etc.

I would say, however, that if you find your cycling leading to tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in the perineal region or a change in sexual function, it would be wise to back off a bit.

Meanwhile, you might consider trying padded shorts; standing  every 5–10 minutes while cycling to promote blood flow; keeping your seat level, or even tilting the seat front down just a bit; going to a bike shop and getting properly fitted for your bike; or switching to a recumbent  bike.

As with most things I write and speak about related to health, I think moderation is the key—and so is common sense. I still consider cycling a safe and effective form of physical activity, and I plan on continuing to hit the bike trail with my wife once or twice a week.

Sommer, F., Goldstein, I., and Beate-Korda, J. Bicycle riding and erectile dysfunction: A review. Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010), Vol 7, pp. 2346-2358

True or False: Pilates gives you long, lean muscles?

Posted on May 24, 2017


PILATES IS A low-impact method of exercise that usually combines stretching and muscular endurance activities. Pilates exercises can be performed on either a mat or a specialized Pilates apparatus.

There are several variations of Pilates; some are geared toward rehabilitation, while others are geared more toward general fitness. I find it interesting that Pilates was popular with dancers before it started to gain popularity with the general population. Today, millions of people participate in daily Pilates exercise classes, follow along with Pilates videos or perform Pilates on their own.

When I hear people talk about Pilates, I often hear the claim that Pilates exercises increase muscle length, resulting in longer, leaner-looking muscles—a misconception certainly perpetuated on the Internet. Here is a direct quote I recently found online: “However, there is a definite emphasis on eccentric conditioning in Pilates, and it is thanks to it that we develop longer, toned muscles instead of short and bulky ones.”

If you have ever engaged in Pilates, you certainly know it can be an intense and challenging workout. I vividly remember the first time I joined my wife at the gym for a Pilates class. After the first 5 or 6 minutes, I knew I was working my muscles in ways they hadn’t been worked before. Some  studies have shown that Pilates gives you such an intense workout that it actually leads to slight increases in muscle hypertrophy—the size of your muscle.

Generally speaking, there are three types of muscle contractions. 1)Concentric contractions occur when your muscles are being shortened, as when you raise the weight during a bicep curl. 2)Eccentric contractions occur when your muscles are being lengthened, as when you lower the weight during a bicep curl. 3)During isometric contractions, muscle length doesn’t change.

Because many Pilates activities have a greater focus on eccentric contractions, people might think you get longer muscles from Pilates. However, eccentric contractions don’t lead to an actual lengthening of your muscles; in other words, eccentric contractions don’t result in your muscle “stretching” from being 4 inches long to 5.5 inches long.

Pilates does improve flexibility, but that improvement doesn’t affect muscle length. Lots of things can improve our flexibility—static and dynamic stretching as well as regular physical activity, for example—but these activities don’t change muscle length. Think about it: If Pilates really did lengthen muscles, those who did lots of Pilates could potentially look a bit misshapen! A recent review of the beneficial effects of Pilates (Cruz-Ferreira 2011) suggests that Pilates is effective at improving flexibility, dynamic balance and muscular endurance. Other outcomes evaluated in this literature review included reaction time, number of falls, physical self-concept, life satisfaction and the perception of health status. However, there is limited evidence to suggest that Pilates is responsible for having an impact on these additional measures. In fact, the authors didn’t even consider “muscle lengthening” as a potential positive impact of Pilates.

If you have never experienced a Pilates class, give it a try! Even though my first one was incredibly challenging and resulted in some muscle soreness for a couple of days, I still perform a variety of Pilates activities on a weekly basis.

Cruz-Ferreira, A., Fernandes, J., Laranjo, L., Bernardo, L., and Silva, A. A systematic review of the effects of Pilates method of exercise in healthy people. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2011), Vol 92, pp. 2071-2081.

True or False: Swimmers live longer than runners?

Posted on April 20, 2017


I LOVE TALKING to people about swimming! Over the past 20 years I’ve had hundreds—maybe even thousands—of conversations with people about swimming. Most agree that swimming is a great form of physical activity and beneficial for good health … and most are quick to let you know that they’ve tried swimming and it’s not for them. Are you one of these people?

The conversation usually goes something like this: “Oh yeah, I tried swimming for exercise a few years ago. Wow, was it ever hard! I just couldn’t get the breathing down, and after a lap or two I would get a panicky feeling and would have to stop. I was also confused about how to perform the strokes properly—and the little dive-under-the-water, twist, and kick-off-the-wall move at the end of each lap—forget about it!”

I would then ask how many times they mustered the courage to get in the pool and swim before deciding to give up on it, and the response was usually, “Oh, three or four times.”

I have been a recreational swimmer my whole life, but I didn’t swim an actual lap in a pool until I was in my late 30s. My parents never signed me up for swim lessons when I was young, and I learned to swim the old-fashioned way: Someone tossed me into a lake in water over my head, and I struggled to stay afloat, eventually learning how to swim. I started swimming pool laps when I got interested in triathlons, and I’ve done three or four in the past few years.

I struggled mightily the first few times in the water. I was able to complete a lap or two, but then I’d have to stop due to fatigue and exhaustion as well as a panicky feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

But I stuck with it and came up with a plan: Every time I entered the pool, I would attempt to swim one more lap. It worked! After about three or four months and a constant battle against a little voice in my head to quit, I was able to swim a mile without stopping.

I’ve certainly read a lot about the benefits of swimming, and I have to admit that I’m a true convert. Swimming can help you improve your cardiovascular endurance, yet it is low impact; injuries to the ankle, knee, hip and back are usually not as frequent in swimmers when compared with runners or those who play racquetball and similar sports.

There is also something very soothing, relaxing and almost spiritual about being in the water. Even after a fairly long, tough swim, people report feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.

With all the benefits that come with swimming, I have to say I was a bit surprised when I first learned of research that had been published comparing mortality (death rates) in swimmers versus runners, walkers and individuals who didn’t exercise (this research was done on men). The authors (Chase et al., 2008) reported that over a 13-year period 1,336 of 20,356 runners died, 1,747 of 15,883 sedentary individuals died, 292 of 3,746 walkers died and 11 of 562 swimmers died.

So swimmers had 53%, 50%, and 49% lower all-cause mortality risk than did men who were sedentary, walkers or runners, respectively. The authors didn’t provide much information about why swimmers seem to experience lower mortality rates, but the low-impact therapeutic nature of swimming certainly might contribute to it.

I obviously am a big fan of swimming. But if you like to run, cycle, walk, play basketball or engage in similar sports, I encourage you to continue. If you have never tried swimming—or tried it at some point and stopped—I encourage you to get some pointers on how to swim, and then get in the water and make swimming a regular part of your physical activity  routine.

Chase, N., Sui, X., and Blair, S. Swimming and all-cause mortality risk compared with running, walking, and sedentary habits in men. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education (2008), Vol 2, pp. 213-223.

True or False: You sweat more when you are in better shape?

Posted on March 20, 2017


YOU DECIDE TO head to the gym with your best friend for a 30- or 45-minute cardiovascular workout. Shortly after arriving and hopping   on the treadmill, you are dripping wet with sweat, but your friend has barely reached the point where her skin is glistening from perspiration. You wonder if it is because you are working out at a higher intensity. Nope—you are both running at 7 miles an  hour.

Maybe it’s because you are bigger. Again, no—you both are approximately the same height and weight.

Maybe it’s because you are in better shape. You do recall reading on the Internet that individuals who are in better shape sweat more. But that doesn’t make sense, because your friend works out much more than you do, and she even runs road races—and you don’t.

In reality, it could simply be that you sweat more easily than your friend!

Sweat is primarily water with a bit of sugar, salt, ammonia and urea. Each person has 2–4 million sweat glands. Women generally have more sweat glands than do men, but women’s sweat glands are less active.

The greatest concentration of sweat glands in humans is on the bottoms of our feet, on the palms of our hands and in our armpits. Many people think sweat smells bad, but sweat is relatively odorless. Sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin creates the strong and sometimes-repulsive odor we smell after someone has been sweating.

Sweat is one of the ways we dissipate heat to cool our bodies, especially during exercise. Exercise raises body temperature, prompting increased sweating. Interestingly, some animals—dogs, for example—don’t have sweat glands. They pant to cool down, losing heat through their mouths and tongues.

Sweating rates in people vary a great deal. As in the scenario above, some people sweat easily and sweat a lot. Others can engage in intense physical activity and sweat very little.

Does our state of physical fitness have a bearing on how much we sweat? A recent article published in the American Journal of Physiology by Jay and colleagues (2011) examined sweat rates in research participants based upon Vo2 peak, a measure of how much oxygen a body can take in and use during exercise. Generally speaking, individuals who are in better shape have  greater Vo2  peak.

Following the study the authors concluded, “The present study clearly demonstrates that large differences in Vo2 do not influence changes in core temperature or sweating during exercise in a neutral climate.”

Being in great physical shape didn’t affect sweating rates in research participants; however, as we up our training regimen and improve our physical conditioning, our bodies become more efficient at retaining electrolytes that are important for performance.

So don’t feel bad if you sweat more than your friend or she sweats more than you do. The important thing is that you get out there, are active and have fun doing it!

Jay, O., Bain, A., Deren, T., Sacheli, M., and Cramer, M. Large differences in peak oxygen update do not independently alter changes in core temperature and sweating during exercise. American Journal of Physiology (2011), Vol 301, pp. 832-841.

True or False: Static stretching before activity helps reduce injuries?

Posted on January 9, 2017


Oh, the good old pre-game static stretching routine. Most of us have done it thousands of times over the years, but why exactly were we doing it, and what exactly was it supposed to  accomplish?

Static stretching is where you get your muscles in a position of stretch and hold them there for 30–60 seconds. One common static stretch is standing with one leg in front of the other, keeping your legs straight, and then bending forward to try to touch the ground. Go on—give it a try. If it’s been a few years since you have done this, it’s not likely that your fingers will make contact with the ground. But if you can get them as far down as your ankles, you’re doing pretty well!

Static stretching started to gain popularity in the late 1800s and became highly popular in the mid-1900s. Most coaches believed—and many still do—that static stretching prior to activity would both improve performance and decrease injuries. It turns out that neither of these is true.

Current research shows that static stretching prior to explosive-type movements such as sprinting or jumping actually decreases performance. (See chapter 8 in my first book for more information on this.)

And most research conducted on stretching to prevent injury shows little correlation between stretching prior to activities and reduced injury rates.

Small and colleagues (2008), in an article titled “A systematic review into  the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury,” state, “Results seem to indicate that there is moderate-to-strong evidence that routine application of static stretching will not reduce overall injury.” Research conducted on military personnel has shown the same results; stretching prior to physical training doesn’t reduce injury rates in soldiers.

So if the practice of performing static stretching prior to being active doesn’t improve performance or decrease injury rates, why do we do it? I think the reason is simple: That’s how it’s always been done. Many coaches— especially those who work with younger athletes—don’t stay current on the latest research in the area of exercise and sport science. They fall back to what they were taught or told to do when they were athletes. For some coaches, this could have been 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. My wife and I have three boys in sports year-round, and we have seen some interesting pre-practice and pre-game routines! I’m sure many of you have as well.

I want to be clear: It’s not that static stretching is bad, but many fitness professionals now suggest saving static stretching until after your practice or game. Before physical activity, you’re better off to engage in some light cardiovascular exercise to get your blood flowing and your body temperature elevated slightly.

You also might try some active or dynamic stretches or warm-up activities to ready your body for activity. I’d much rather go for a light jog than bend forward and try to touch my toes again!

Small, K., McNaughton, M., and Matthews, M. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Research in Sports Medicine (2008), Vol 16, pp. 213-231.