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Protecting your vagus nerve (my what???)

JUN 30, 2023

Minute 1: How a nerve in your head affects your cardiovascular system

Spending most of our week poring over stories and research on fitness, endurance sports and nutrition, we were a little surprised that we’d never learned how important the vagus nerve is to our overall health. We had a vague idea (pun intended) about the nerves in our heads and necks, but we just learned from this Healthline story that “the vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves in the body. It’s responsible for various bodily functions, including digestion, heart rate, and breathing.” Obviously, that’s important stuff for endurance athletes. This nerve is also part of the parasympathetic nervous system that can calm your “fight or flight” response to stress. The problem is that the normal aging process and the stress of everyday life can decrease vagus nerve function. According to a new study, there is a solution: “Toning Your Vagus Nerve Undoes the Toll Chronic Stress Has Taken on Your Body — and All It Takes Is Cold Water.” The story reports that “vagus nerve activity increased by 39% in people who drank about 8 oz. of ice water, a study in Clinical Autonomic Research found. Meanwhile, it dipped by 5% in those who drank room-temperature water.” Other simple ways to boost your vagus nerve include cold compresses on your face and cranking your shower to cold for the last minute or two. In a University of Buffalo study, measurements of vagus nerve activity increased up to 163% in folks who cooled their faces. #CoolYourNerves

Minute 2: Is intermittent fasting age-appropriate for you?

One of the most popular weight loss regimes in the world is centered on the concept of intermittent fasting. (Johns Hopkins Medicine provides the details: “Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work?”) Much like the food you ingest between abstinence periods, there are many different flavors to consider, such as:

  • 16:8 Method – Eat all your meals within an 8-hour window while fasting for 16 hours.

  • 5:2 Diet Method – Eat normally for 5 days but on two non-consecutive days, consume only 500-600 calories.

  • OMAD – Perhaps the most extreme option, you eat only One Meal A Day within a one-hour window.

Whatever you think of those food consumption plans, they are clearly not meant for everyone. A key variable that most people ignore is how your age factors into the equation, according to: “Unveiling the Intermittent Fasting by Age Chart: A Breakthrough Approach Explained.” The question is, which one of those is appropriate for your age group? The nutritional needs and lifestyle of a 25-year-old are much different from a 50-year-old, so it makes sense that their fasting plans should be as well. In general, it is more difficult for a younger person to eat only within a small time window, since social activities are likely to pop up on short notice. #FastTimes

Minute 3: Coming soon – Ozempic in a pill form

If those fasting plans sound a little extreme for you, there is always the new “easy button” to weight loss – semaglutide medications like Ozempic and Wegovy. Originally intended to treat diabetes, it turned out that they were very effective at inducing weight loss. Arguably the biggest impediment to wider adoption of these drugs has been the fact that they required an injection – but that’s about to change. Two new studies have shown that an ingestible version of the medication is nearly as effective: “A Pill Form of Ozempic Is on the Horizon.” Using these meds for a year will typically shave off 5-15% of a user’s body weight, but that comes at a price. According to the Washington Post story above, “80 percent of those who took oral semaglutide reported gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. Nearly 13 percent said they experienced ‘altered skin sensation,’ such as tingling.” We’re sticking to a well-balanced nutrition plan, but hey, who are we to judge?

Minute 4: Shoe Review: New Balance SuperComp Trainer, v2, $180

Shoe reviewer Brian Metzler loves the New Balance SuperComp Trainer v2, since it is a carbon-fiber training shoe that is much more practical than its racing cousins. If you are logging moderate to long runs on the pavement – which most of us do regularly – this shoe should be in your quiver. The highlights of Brian’s review are below, but for the full story, hit this link.

One of my favorite road shoes I’ve been running in for the past month is the vastly improved second edition of the New Balance SuperComp Trainer (aka SC Trainer v2), which might be the best update of any shoe on the market this year. While the initial version of this daily training shoe was very good, the updated model fits better, feels better and has a much nicer ride. The improvements have put this shoe (which has a carbon-fiber plate embedded in its midsole) in the top-tier of lively and versatile daily trainers along with shoes like Saucony’s Endorphin Speed 3 and the ASICS Magic Speed 3.

What’s New: This SC Trainer v2 went through a minor but significant overhaul in its second iteration, with new materials and new design specs that have made it a vastly better shoe. The biggest changes are the new midsole foam package and geometry. The new formulation of FuelCell foam is less dense and heavy compared to the original, but instead more airy, more bouncy and much more lively. The stack height and heel-toe offset has also been reduced, going from an 8mm drop (47mm/39mm) to a 6mm drop (40mm/34mm). New Balance also changed the upper to a less stretchy but more secure engineered mesh material and went away from the stretchy knit collar of the previous version and reverted to a more traditional padded heel collar.

Why It’s Great: The vast changes have made the new SC Trainer v2 feel more compact, agile, stable and energetic, eliminating the overly soft and somewhat sloppy ride that some runners (including me) complained about with the first version. The heel stack height of the original version was 47mm under the heel following the trend of a few shoe brands that were defiantly building shoes in excess of the World Athletics 40mm standard for competition. (Those standards only applied to elite runners and the original SC Trainer wasn’t meant to be an elite marathon shoe anyway, so the design specs became a moot point – especially because the excess amount of super-soft foam made it a bit mushy.) The more compact design specs (and new materials) of the SC Trainer v2 not only give it more proprioceptive feel for the ground, but it’s also made it lighter, livelier and more fun to run in.

For Brian’s full review of the new New Balance SuperComp Trainer, v2, check it out here.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • Unlike one of our company’s co-founders, we may never complete an epic ultramarathon like the Western States 100. But that doesn’t mean we’re not fascinated by the culture and the characters connected with this legendary foot race. We loved this new piece about how a group of volunteers staffed a spot seven miles from the finish last weekend, steering exhausted runners safely toward the finish line: “Late Night at the Western States 100 Highway 49 Crossing.” Races like the Western States simply don’t happen unless fun-loving volunteers are willing to pull all-nighters on the side of a highway.

  • It’s probably not a surprise that only 27% of American adults now live in a home with a traditional phone. (“Barely a quarter of Americans still have landlines. Who are they?”) It’s also no shock that older folks tend not to cut the cord. (The 5% of Americans who rely primarily on a landline are almost all older than 65.) The surprising statistic from a recent national survey, however, is that: “People who have cut the cord are generally more likely to engage in risky behaviors,” Dr. Stephen Blumberg says. “They’re more likely to binge drink, more likely to smoke and more likely to go without health insurance.” That’s true even when researchers control for age, sex, race, ethnicity and income. We suppose it’s like those life insurance questionnaires that ask if you skydive. They aren’t worried that you will die because your parachute malfunctions, but it’s probably a good indicator that you like taking risks.

  • We kicked our Diet Coke habit long ago, but if you’re still slurping this stuff for a little caffeine boost, there's new research that suggests you should reach for a coffee or seltzer water instead. According to a Reuters story out today, the “WHO's cancer research agency to say aspartame sweetener a possible carcinogen.”” Aspartame gives Diet Coke, chewing gum and many other low-cal sodas their sweetness.

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

In Minute 2 of last Wednesday’s issue we shared the benefits of cycling for a runner training for a marathon. That’s a pretty obvious way to cross train, but American 110M hurdler Devon Allen (@devonallen13) has a more unique approach. He stays ready for track & field competition by playing WR for the Philadelphia Eagles. Allen played both sports at the University of Oregon, before dedicating himself to the track and competing in the 2016 and 2021 Olympic Games. In 2022, years after he’d graduated, Allen made waves by running a 4.35 second 40 at Oregon’s Pro Day, earning himself a spot on the Eagles practice squad as a 27 year-old rookie. The mechanics of each sport are so similar that it’s not a surprise that he’s a success at both…besides catching the ball of course. Here is an impressive clip from a recent race in NYC where he tied for the fourth-fastest time in the world this year in the 110M hurdles.


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