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Book Review: The Pioppi Diet

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:46 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Mar 12, 2018, 3:11 AM ]

If you have an interest in health and exercise and have spent any time on twitter in recent years you will have seen the conversations surrounding Tim Noakes and Aseem Malhotra on issues such as Carbs v Calories, Exercise v Diet and Truth v Industry-led Propaganda. It was therefore with great interest that I recently had the chance to see Dr Malhotra speak at the Welsh Exercise Medicine Symposium 2018 and was able to see what he would choose to talk about and how he was going to support his arguments. 

Full disclosure, my own starting point in this debate is that I think we should be aiming to reduce sugar intake as much as possible and limit excess calorie intake but not necessarily reduce carbs as much as many of the #LCHF disciples think is required. So it was that I came away feeling surprised by how much of his keynote was built on solid foundations such as Kelly Brownell’s work on corporate influence and how little of it was in support of aggressive carb reduction. I was slightly confused after seeing much of the online debate and felt that he wasn’t quite as #LCHF as his followers would have us all believe. I was left thinking I’d better read his infamous Pioppi Diet Plan and find out what all the fuss is about.

Prior to reading the book I knew about Malhotra’s LCHF tendencies, I knew that it had been placed in the five worst celebrity diets by the British Dietetic Association (an issue that made Malhotra very angry at the symposium and which he dismissed with cries of industry bias) and I knew that it was called “The Pioppi Diet: A 21 day lifestyle plan” a title that manages to contradict itself by suggesting that changes made in 21 days are thus a lifestyle change. This last issue had grated with me since I first saw Malhotra plugging the book but after seeing him speak I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt as it could be a cheap shot by the publishers and not necessarily a main theme of the book.

The premise of the book is that the authors visited Pioppi, a small fishing village in Italy (population 197) where Ancel Keys once lived and which in turn became the main inspiration and study site for The Mediterranean Diet work that Keys became famous for. Malhotra and his co-author Donal O’Neill visit Pioppi over an undisclosed period and in this book use their experience of life in the hamlet to make links to the science behind healthy lifestyle choices. This link with Pioppi is however, where much of the confusion is to be found in the book.

Relevance to Pioppi

At times, they draw links between the lifestyle behaviours of the villagers and subsequent mortality and morbidity rates using this evidence to underpin the diet that takes its very name from the village. Villagers have consumed low levels of processed foods, eat regular meals, snack less, don’t eat as much pasta as we think the Italians eat and don’t do exercise, “No Gym, No Supermarket, No Problem”.

The problem with this essential link in the narrative is that the author’s pick and choose when to emphasise its existence. Why should we limit the amount of processed food we eat...look at Pioppi man, he doesn’t eat fast food. Garlic...a staple of the mediterranean diet and great for cardiovascular health. Sugar?...In Pioppi, it’s only considered a rare treat and desserts are only eaten on Sundays. Exercise...the people of Pioppi would scoff at the thought of doing exercise. All good so far, but hey what about doing some pilates, how about Tabata? Turmeric anyone?.

I can accept that Italians don’t eat pasta quite as much as many of us might think they do, but they do eat it and it would be in the diet of most Pioppian’s. I can’t say the same for many of the recipes that are in the meal plan which include Jerk Chicken Cauliflower Pizza, Chicken Schnitzel with Sauerkraut, Spicy Salmon Curry, Korean stir fried pork belly and Karahi Lamb; I’d love to know how many locals eat these meals regularly yet our author’s fail to tell us any stories about how they know that they do.

Chapter 16 is simply titled, “Aseem and Donal’s Top Ten Foods” and while no introduction or context is given to the chapter, or much reference to Pioppi, there’s a list of foods that are recommended by the authors. Most of it is pretty standard healthy eating advice but with no mention of the obvious anomaly there is the inclusion of Turmeric (“This spice is a staple of indian cuisine and has been widely studied globally” p185) and coconut (“populations which have traditionally consumed coconut - like the Tokelauans, who ate more than 30 per cent [sic] of their calorie intake in the form of coconut...”)

I don’t have a problem taking inspiration from different communities from around the world but the inconsistencies in use between the real Pioppi and that imagined and extolled by the authors are quite confusing.

The Role of Physical Activity

When it comes to physical activity, Malhotra is well known for an infamous editorial in the BJSM, “It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet” and in the Pioppi Diet, O’Neill and Malhotra repeat much of the same line standing on the shoulders of Tim Noakes who they say first, “dismantled the conviction that running marathons eradicated one’s risk of heart disease”

Once again, the narrative is often confusing throughout the book as there is a conflation of the physical activity terminology. They highlight the fact that the people of Pioppi never do any exercise, but it (almost) becomes clear that by exercise they mean scheduled exercise, or more specifically gym-based exercise. They refer to the concept of “meaningful movement” in a chapter titled “movement is medicine” yet never quite state whether this chapter title is ironic or a statement of the author’s belief. Comparisons are made between the average lifespan of Tour de France riders and the men of pioppi and cited as evidence that doing exercise does not mean you’ll live longer. Unfortunately there is not space on this page or time in my life to explain why this should not be the only comparison that we make in coming to this conclusion but yet it appears to be one of the main pillars of evidence used to support this thesis.

They highlight the importance of the exercise du jour, HIIT training (although to be fair O’Neill does point out that it has been around for many years in the form of “interval training”). O’Neill [they seem to take turns in writing chapters but there is a lack of explanation or warning of this) makes reference to Izumi Tabata’s seminal work on intervals but, as with many references to Tabata, fails to reinforce how hard a proper Tabata session needs to be and that few people that are not already active and fit should or would choose to do it.

They also make the common error of thinking that the only important aspect of Tabata training is that one moves for 20s and then rests for 10s before repeating. To gain the benefits from Tabata training, or HIIT, participants need to be working at very high intensities that are most often achieved by using a cycle ergometer. Appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs are required as are the monitoring of intensities. I fear therefore, that hanging on to the side of a door would not result in a meaningful HIIT session.





The HIIT phenomenon also offers an unforeseen opportunity for the authors to suggest that the only reason we don't know about this disruptive way of exercising is that it suffers from abuse in a very commercial multi-million dollar exercise industry. I honestly don’t know what this means.





The reference above to a Canadian study is not identified so could be a school project for all I know. Further issues surrounding the use of HIIT training for health can be found elsewhere (see Biddle & Batterham) but the lack of awareness and explanation of these issues is disappointing.

There is a chapter that goes into “detail” on the type of exercise that should be included in the 21 day plan which is “developed with and written by another author”, a point made at the start of the chapter and after reading the chapter in full this point felt more like a disclaimer than a credit. Anyone would be a fool to say that there is only one way to exercise and that there are not contested areas when it comes to what we recommend (I’ve got a long list of evidence and questions about physical activity guidelines elsewhere on this website). I can say with confidence, however, that I’ve never seen an exercise programme like it. One exercise a day for 21 days with no exercise repeated, no mention of how much of each exercise one should do although “each day of movement builds on the days before”. There’s also some of the strangest coaching points that I’ve seen written down in a long time.

The guidance that does exist on how much of each exercise one should do is within the “guiding factors” and includes advice such as “if your jaw and teeth are involved, the intensity of the movement sequence is above your normal”, “allow your arm and leg muscles to bear your weight” and my favourite, “listen to your bones they fit together in very specific ways”. The exercises themselves are all fairly standard yoga, pilates, tai chi and strength/conditioning activities with just one a day recommended and no timings, sets or reps. Much attention has been given earlier in the book to the unique benefits of HIIT and Tabata training so it’s with some surprise that in a twenty one day period there is only one session of tabata-style training recommended. This would be in contrast to widely used exercise protocols of 3 times a week for 12 weeks (See this by Gibala for instance). Maybe it’s because the old man in Pioppi village would only do one session of Tabata training every three weeks.

Here are a few of the gems included within the exercise guidelines:
  • Dynamic squats - as you rise, press through the ball of the foot to activate calf pump, sending blood back up to your heart
  • Chi (helicopter) arms - keep the gaze soft and the head balanced over the ribcage
  • Squat - keep energy out the crown of the head and the sitting bones
  • Plank to V - pull forward into a plank position that feels like it is flying
  • Mountain climbers - breathe evenly and jump through your joints
  • Dynamic crawling - allow your body to move forwards and backwards with natural intent
I’m reminded of Malhotra et al’s infamous mantra that “you cannot outrun a bad diet”, and I’d offer an additional phrase, “especially with a crap exercise programme”.

In Summary

The book contains a lot of sensible advice but is undermined by two main issues. Too often the concept of naming a diet after a small village in Italy is brought into question, either by blindly using it as entire proof of concept or conversely, by completely ignoring the realities of life in an italian village and recommending everyone eat bucket loads of turmeric and coconut. The other, not unrelated issue is that there are too many statements throughout the book that are made with great confidence but which are completely unsupported by evidence. The author's could make the assertion that this is not an academic text and that too much information can disrupt the narrative but I would point anyone towards the work of Alex Hutchinson to see that it is possible. 



I agree, for instance, with the sentiment that the role of physical activity is often over-emphasised in addressing obesity and that it’s importance is intentionally overplayed by the industries that are keen to sell us cheap processed food (I’ve written about it here) but I wouldn’t go as far as Malhotra in saying that the link is a lie entirely manufactured by the food industry. I haven't really touched on the issue of how low-carb the people of Pioppi actually are, or how low-carb the rest of us should be going but the way that the "evidence" was presented throughout the book on how the people of Pioppi led their lives, I saw no point in examining this content. 

While much of the Pioppi talk is about lifestyle and long-term change my original assertion that the authors might have been stitched up by the publishers in being made to add the 21 day tagline was wrong. The book recommends nothing more than 21 days of healthy eating (lots of curry) and one Tai-Chi exercise a day. There is no content that suggests how those that follow the 21 day plan might prolong these changes to their lifestyle or any of the challenges that they might face. It’s been shown repeatedly in studies that any diet will work for a short period as long as the person monitors what they eat, aims to make changes and then makes changes. The complete lack of advice on maintaining long term behaviour change or recognition that it is a problem is one reason why this diet does sit firmly alongside other fad diets.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of the old man of Pioppi that we were introduced to in this book and find out his thoughts on being put through 21 days of living the lifestyle named after his hometown. I’m sure regular curried food, high intensity tabata circuits and spending time breathing would all feel most familiar to him.

Book Review: Endure by Alex Hutchinson

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:39 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Mar 11, 2018, 1:52 AM ]

For some years now the book that I’ve found myself recommending most often to students is Alex Hutchinson’s “Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights”. Part of my continued enthusiasm for this title has been the positive feedback that students have given me having read it. Alex manages to strike a balance between reporting the technical details of the latest sport and exercise science with a style that is both readable and engaging; a balance which it appears from the limited number of titles that manage this is a difficult one. 

It was therefore with great interest that I started to see emminent sport scientists on twitter getting excited about Alex’s new release, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I’ve just finished reading it and this article contains a short review, some related links and a selection of research cited within the book that I felt I wanted to review further. 



The book is structured in a way that the narrative is built around the Nike #breaking2 attempt however each chapter stands alone as a neatly focused review of a particular topic such as heat, hydration or oxygen, in turn reviewing the key contemporary research that is aimed at understanding the limits to human performance. The narrative flows clearly through most of the book and each chapter is readable in one sitting which is a feature I always like. Alex has spent many years engaging with the world’s best endurance scientists and sharpening his own ability to take complex, contested scientific findings and relate this information to a wide range of readers in a way that is interesting and simple to understand but which avoids patronising the reader. The success of this book is built on that ability to tell a good story and is no doubt why Malcolm Gladwell felt able to put his name on the front cover.

The main premise of the book is that no matter how good a performer one might be, our ability to achieve a personal best is limited by our physical attributes and fitness levels but also by our brain. Within the book, Alex attempts to break down the competing theories and then tries to find the consensus among them. While the book seeks to simplify some complicated science it manages to maintain a good level of credibility by drawing on many classic and contemporary sources, all of which are listed in the extensive endnotes (which can also be found here). I suspect the key protagonists in the narrative such as Tim Noakes, Ross Tucker, and Sam Marcora might all say that at times their research has been over-simplified for the sake of this book but for the casual reader, that’s a strength that allows Alex to keep the reader engaged and interested. Having read a few reviews on Amazon, there are plenty of people (wrongly imo) saying that it is over-complicated so it would appear that the right balance has been struck.

I’ve read a number of reviews that have suggested it fails to offer practical ways of increasing endurance but I also find this hard to fathom as the thread that runs through the entire book is that our brains work in tandem with our bodies in limiting performance of many types. Understanding this is an essential point for anyone trying to construct training programmes that might increase performance.

This book would no doubt appeal to keen endurance athletes and I have already started to recommend this for sport science undergraduates. I also think it’s a worthwhile read for postgrads who might be more familiar with some areas of the book but would find this useful in maintaining their peripheral vision and not losing sight of the fact that performance is complex and multi-dimensional.

Below I’ve included some links and resources that are related to the book and also picked out a number of the sources cited in the endnotes,

Twitter

Many of the key scientists whose work has been included in the book are very active and engaging on Twitter.

@sweatscience (Alex Hutchinson)


YouTube Video



Selected reading taken from the endnotes

The full endnotes are available at Alex’s website here

Two Hours

Joyner, M. J. (1991). Modeling: optimal marathon performance on the basis of physiological factors. Journal of Applied Physiology, 70(2), 683-687. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1991.70.2.683

Joyner, M. (2017) Believe It: A Sub-2 Marathon Is Coming Runner’s World, 6th May, 2017 https://www.runnersworld.com/2-hour-marathon/believe-it-a-sub-2-marathon-is-coming

Joyner, M. J., Ruiz, J. R., & Lucia, A. (2011). The two-hour marathon: who and when?. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110(1), 275-277.https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00563.2010

Unforgiving Minute

Lansing, A., & Shackleton, S. E. H. (2000). Endurance: The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told. Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current directions in psychological science, 16(6), 351-355.https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2007.00534.x

Withers, T. (2015) LeBron pushes himself to total exhaustion in win over Hawks https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/basketball/lebron-pushes-himself-to-total-exhaustion-in-win-over-hawks/article24587787/

Graubner, R., & Nixdorf, E. (2011). Biomechanical analysis of the sprint and hurdles events at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. New studies in athletics, 26(1/2), 19-53.

Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Basset, F. A., Byrne, J. M., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Pacing strategies during repeated maximal voluntary contractions. European journal of applied physiology, 114(7), 1413-1420. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-014-2872-3

Dorotik-Nana, C. The Four Minute Mile, The Two Hour Marathon, and The Danger of Glass Ceilings https://blogs.psychcentral.com/leveraging-adversity/2017/05/the-four-minute-mile-the-two-hour-marathon-and-the-danger-of-glass-ceilings/

Tucker, R. (2014) The 2-hour marathon and the 4-min mile https://sportsscientists.com/2014/12/2-hour-marathon-4-min-mile/

The Human Machine

Worsley, H. (2011). In Shackleton's Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic. Random House.

Noakes, T. D. (2006). The limits of endurance exercise. Basic research in cardiology, 101(5), 408-417. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00395-006-0607-2

Fletcher, W. M., & Hopkins, F. G. (1907). Lactic acid in amphibian muscle. The Journal of physiology, 35(4), 247-309. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/jphysiol.1907.sp001194/pdf

Gladden, L. B. (2004). Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium. The Journal of physiology, 558(1), 5-30.

Hill, L. (1908). Oxygen And Muscular Exercise As A Form Of Treatment. British Medical Journal, 2(2492), 967. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2437552/pdf/brmedj07981-0011.pdf

Hill, A. V., & Lupton, H. (1923). Muscular exercise, lactic acid, and the supply and utilization of oxygen. QJM: Quarterly Journal of Medicine, (62), 135-171.http://www.jstor.org/stable/81066

Hill, A. V. (1926). Muscular activity. [More on Hill….A.V.Hill by Katch, F.I.]

Hill, A. V. (1925). The physiological basis of athletic records. The Scientific Monthly, 21(4), 409-428. http://www.jstor.org/stable/7404?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Halsey, L. G., & Stroud, M. A. (2011). Could Scott have survived with today's physiological knowledge?. Current Biology, 21(12), R457-R461.

Scheffler, R. W. (2015). The power of exercise and the exercise of power: The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, distance running, and the disappearance of work, 1919–1947. Journal of the History of Biology, 48(3), 391-423. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10739-014-9392-1

Caesar, E. (2016). Two hours: the quest to run the impossible marathon. Simon and Schuster.

The Central Governor

Noakes, T. D., & Marino, F. E. (2009). Point: Counterpoint: Maximal oxygen uptake is/is not. J Appl Physiol, 106(1), 341-342.

Tucker, R., Lambert, M. I., & Noakes, T. D. (2006). An analysis of pacing strategies during men’s world-record performances in track athletics. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1(3), 233-245.

Allen, E. J., Dechow, P. M., Pope, D. G., & Wu, G. (2016). Reference-dependent preferences: Evidence from marathon runners. Management Science, 63(6), 1657-1672.

Noakes, T. D. (2008). Testing for maximum oxygen consumption has produced a brainless model of human exercise performance. British journal of sports medicine, 42(7), 551-555.

The Conscious Quitter

Martin, K., Staiano, W., Menaspà, P., Hennessey, T., Marcora, S., Keegan, R., ... & Rattray, B. (2016). Superior inhibitory control and resistance to mental fatigue in professional road cyclists. PloS one, 11(7), e0159907. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159907

Pain

Cycling Weekly (2014) Jens Voigt: the man behind the Hour attempt http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/jens-voigt-man-behind-hour-attempt-136665

Freund, W., Weber, F., Billich, C., Birklein, F., Breimhorst, M., & Schuetz, U. H. (2013). Ultra‐Marathon Runners Are Different: Investigations into Pain Tolerance and Personality Traits of Participants of the TransEurope FootRace 2009. Pain Practice, 13(7), 524-532. doi:10.1111/papr.12039

Angius, L., Hopker, J. G., Marcora, S. M., & Mauger, A. R. (2015). The effect of transcranial direct current stimulation of the motor cortex on exercise-induced pain. European journal of applied physiology, 115(11), 2311-2319. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-015-3212-y

Muscle

The 1983 World’s Strongest Man Competition

Cairns, S. P. (2006). Lactic acid and exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 36(4), 279-291.

Goodwin, M. L., Harris, J. E., Hernández, A., & Gladden, L. B. (2007). Blood lactate measurements and analysis during exercise: a guide for clinicians. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 1(4), 558-569. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/193229680700100414

Oxygen

Nestor, J. (2014). Deep: Freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deep-Freediving-Renegade-Science-Ourselves/dp/0547985525

Panneton, M. W. (2013). The mammalian diving response: an enigmatic reflex to preserve life?. Physiology, 28(5), 284-297. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiol.00020.2013

Constantini, K., Tanner, D. A., Gavin, T. P., Harms, C. A., Stager, J. M., & Chapman, R. F. (2017). Prevalence of Exercise-Induced Arterial Hypoxemia in Distance Runners at Sea Level. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 49(5), 948-954. 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001193

Haugen, T., Paulsen, G., Seiler, S., & Sandbakk, Ø. (2017). New records in human power. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 1-27. Researchgate

Heat

Cramer, M. N., & Jay, O. (2016). Biophysical aspects of human thermoregulation during heat stress. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical, 196, 3-13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.03.001

Périard, J. D., Racinais, S., & Sawka, M. N. (2015). Adaptations and mechanisms of human heat acclimation: applications for competitive athletes and sports. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25(S1), 20-38. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sms.12408/full

Schneider, S. M. (2016). Heat acclimation: gold mines and genes. Temperature, 3(4), 527-538. (in place of original Dreosti reference)

Leon, L. R., & Helwig, B. G. (2010). Heat stroke: role of the systemic inflammatory response. Journal of applied physiology, 109(6), 1980-1988. http://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/japplphysiol.00301.2010

Thirst

Beis, L. Y., Wright-Whyte, M., Fudge, B., Noakes, T., & Pitsiladis, Y. P. (2012). Drinking behaviors of elite male runners during marathon competition. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 22(3), 254-261.

Sawka, M. N., & Noakes, T. D. (2007). Does dehydration impair exercise performance?. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1209. DOI: 10.1249/mss.0b013e318124a664

Nolte, H. W., Noakes, T. D., & Van Vuuren, B. (2011). Trained humans can exercise safely in extreme dry heat when drinking water ad libitum. Journal of sports sciences, 29(12), 1233-1241. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.587195

Goulet, E. D. (2012). Effect of exercise-induced dehydration on endurance performance: evaluating the impact of exercise protocols on outcomes using a meta-analytic procedure. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2012.

Hutchinson, A. (2015) How much water should you drink? Research is changing what we know about our fluid needs

Fuel

Volek, J. S., Noakes, T., & Phinney, S. D. (2015). Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. European journal of sport science, 15(1), 13-20.

Burke, L. (2017). Low carb high fat (LCHF) diets for athletes–Third time lucky?. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, S1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.369

Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Garvican‐Lewis, L. A., Welvaert, M., Heikura, I. A., Forbes, S. G., ... & Hawley, J. A. (2017). Low carbohydrate, high fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers. The Journal of physiology, 595(9), 2785-2807.

Training The Brain

Tucker, R. (2009). The anticipatory regulation of performance: the physiological basis for pacing strategies and the development of a perception-based model for exercise performance. British journal of sports medicine, 43(6), 392-400.

Mauger, A. R., & Sculthorpe, N. (2012). A new VO2max protocol allowing self-pacing in maximal incremental exercise. Br J Sports Med, 46(1), 59-63. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2011-090006

Beltrami, F. G., Froyd, C., Mauger, A. R., Metcalfe, A. J., Marino, F. and Noakes, T. D. (2012) Conventional testing methods produce submaximal values of maximum oxygen consumption. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 46, No. 1: 23–29. [Online]. Available from: doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090306

Marcora, S. M., Staiano, W., & Merlini, M. (2015). A randomized controlled trial of brain endurance training (bet) to reduce fatigue during endurance exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(5S), 198. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000476967.03579.44

Simons, D. J., Boot, W. R., Charness, N., Gathercole, S. E., Chabris, C. F., Hambrick, D. Z., & Stine-Morrow, E. A. (2016). Do “brain-training” programs work?. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(3), 103-186.

Zapping the Brain

Sarmiento, C. I., San-Juan, D., & Prasath, V. B. S. (2016). Letter to the Editor: Brief history of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS): from electric fishes to microcontrollers. Psychological medicine, 46(15), 3259.

Hutchinson, A (2014) Your Body on Brain Doping https://www.outsideonline.com/1926551/your-body-brain-doping

Underwood, E. (2016) Cadaver study casts doubts on how zapping brain may boost mood, relieve pain http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/cadaver-study-casts-doubts-how-zapping-brain-may-boost-mood-relieve-pain

Belief

Halson, S. L., & Martin, D. T. (2013). Lying to win—placebos and sport science. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2013, 8, 597-599

Burfoot, A. (2011) Milkshakes, Mile Repeats, and Your Mind: a Delicious Combination https://www.runnersworld.com/peak-performance/milkshakes-mile-repeats-and-your-mind-a-delicious-combination

Magness, S. (2016) A Case for Running by Feel- Ditching your GPS because of Ecological Psychology http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2016/02/a-case-for-running-by-feel-ditching.html

Plymouth Car drivers: Please stop using the cycle lane

posted Jan 11, 2018, 6:28 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Jan 12, 2018, 8:14 AM ]

I cycle to work all year round, almost every day and I’ve been riding from the West of Plymouth to Derriford for nearly eight years now. When anyone comments on how dangerous cycling is, I have always said that yes, Derriford Roundabout can be a bit hairy at times, as can areas around Crownhill shops but that much of it is really safe, in particular West Park and Crownhill Road where there’s a long dedicated cycle lane.

Since early December, 2017 however, this has changed quite significantly. For some reason car drivers travelling towards Derriford from West Park have collectively decided that it’s better if they start queueing in the bike lane as they wait to exit Crownhill Rd and go past the Police Station. The reason for moving across to the left has some merit, as it allows cars the space to continue travelling along Crownhill Rd towards Crownhill, however the reason that nearly all drivers have recently decided on this course of action must be a kind of herd mentality that favours the experience of other car drivers over the safety of another road user, cyclists. For most of the distance that cars are now pulling over, it’s not essential for them to be tight to the kerb to allow cars past on the right, but yet many cars choose this option. 




Why is it a problem?

The scene above is pretty typical for a weekday morning where up to around 40 cars can be found blocking the cycle lane leaving cyclists with two options; mount the pavement with pedestrians or ride in the fast flowing traffic left by their moving across. Neither of these are good for cyclists, and are particularly frustrating when there is already a dedicated cycle lane in place. Both pictures I've included show how it is possible for drivers to encroach on the cycle lane slightly yet still leave space for cyclists to pass quite comfortably. They also show how drivers that pull right over to the kerb restrict access completely.





Cycling is dangerous enough already

If any of this seems petty to readers then it should be viewed in addition to the other stresses and dangers that cyclist have encountered over the last year as a result of the roadworks at Derriford. Many drivers will say that it’s been a stressful time for all of us but as a car driver and cyclist I can say with some confidence that driving a car to work might be annoying but you don’t feel like your life is at stake anywhere near as often as when riding a bike.

What does the law say?

The Highway Code is quite clear on the inability of drivers to park in cycle lanes with solid white lines but is less clear on those that have broken white lines suggesting that it is possible if unavoidable. You won't be surprised to hear that my opinion is that driving in this lane is avoidable, there is even less need to block it entirely.




Less people cycling means more people driving

I’ve always been a relaxed cyclist, and have always seen many more good acts from drivers than poor ones. I’ve also been a great advocate for cycling and have encouraged many people to take up cycle commuting over the years. Part of the sadness of my recent experiences has been that I’ve become less positive about the experience and this means my advocacy is more hesitant. If we multiply this by the many cyclists that do commute to work then we’ll find it harder and harder to persuade people to take up this great form of transport that’s environmentally sound, great for our health and crucially for many car drivers, reduces the number of car drivers and helps reduce congestion. It surely makes sense for those in cars to help cyclists share the roads safely as it is a benefit to all road users in the end.  


What’s needed

The best long term solution would be to have a structurally dedicated cycle lane, as this would take away the option that drivers currently have of driving over the white line.

In the meantime we need to rely on the rational, conscious choice making of all the good drivers out there who need to realise the impact of blocking cycle lanes and avoid pulling over. Ideally, all drivers would avoid crossing the line but it would even be possible to place the left wheels on or even slightly over the white line and we could get past OK. 

Good drivers need to be confident in making the right decision and leave enough space, rather than follow the unthinking masses. If more good drivers left adequate space, many other drivers will follow suit, some consciously aware and considerate and many others less conscious in their decision making, but still leaving space. 

My polite appeal therefore, is that drivers of Plymouth avoid blocking cycle lanes as it's really dangerous for cyclists if you do. The cycle lane is there for a reason and that reason is to prevent accidents. 




How I use Screencasts for Teaching and Learning

posted Dec 16, 2017, 1:34 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Dec 16, 2017, 1:41 AM ]

I've dabbled with screencasting for several years, but over the last month or so my use of screencasting has increased. Subsequently, I've had lots of positive feedback from students so I thought I'd share some of the ways in which I've found this method of communication useful. 


What screencasts have to offer

Less time spent repeating key information - If you've ever found yourself repeating the same content or advice on multiple occasions to the same students or maybe from one cohort to the next then screencasting can offer a means of recording short bursts of content that students can be signposted towards.

Provide short summaries of key topic areas - These could be used to deliver content prior to a session, or to ensure that key concepts from a session are fully understood and not lost in a longer complex session.

Students are able to learn at their own pace - In addition to providing clarity on key topics, they can also be used to cover more content than you might cover in a "normal" ten minute period due to the fact that students can re-watch or slow down the video as they watch it online.

A task for students to complete as an assessment - For several years now colleagues and I have embedded a screencast in a year two BEd Phys Ed module. It's worked really well as a way of assessing complex knowledge and understanding but also introduces emerging professional educators how they might be able to produce their own resources for teaching and learning.

How to make a Screencast

There are a range of tools to use that include licensed software and free to use applications. It's not essential to have a webcam but you will need to make sure you have a decent microphone and this might require the use of a headset or a webcam. 

Here are three screencast applications that I've used:

Screencast-o-matic - Free to use application that allows the user to draw a square on the screen and record everything within that space. You need to pay to "Go Pro" to remove the watermark and have access to advanced editing features but you can do a lot with the free version. 


Panopto - A common tool used in many Universities to perform lecture capture in the classroom. It can also be used to make screencasts from your desk and offers useful editing tools if needed. Follow this link to read the Marjon MeLT team's explanation of how to use Panopto for screencasting.


What to do with your screencast

Options will vary according to the tool that you use but most will be accessible via a URL that you can embed in your VLE (e.g. Moodle, LearningSpace). There should also be an option to get an embed code which can be used to position the video itself into your VLE making it more visible and requiring less clicks for the student to watch it. The online free-to-access tools such as screencastify will also have the option to upload your video to YouTube creating an easily accessible channel of your own containing all of your screencasts. 

You may feel the need to make your videos more or perhaps less publicly available and these various options will allow you to manage access to your work.


What I've Learnt from making a number of screencasts.

  • Get over yourself #1 - Most people hate the sound of their own voice but remember that your students are already forced to listen to you droning on anyway so don't worry about how you come across in front of the camera. 
  • Get over yourself #2 - Any new software takes some getting used to but all three of these tools outlined above are pretty intuitive and way less complicated than much of the software that most people are already using. As with all new tools, you need to commit an hour to playing with it and anticipate making a few duff ones first but you'll soon have the skills to make good enough videos for your students. 
  • A bit of extra time now can save much more time in the future - A ten minute screen cast will take longer than ten minutes to make. My advice is to use resources you already have access to (such as lecture slides) or make very simple, quick new ones if needed. Screencasts can show any type of content that is on your screen so there's no limitations as to what you can film. An hour spent making a content rich, re-usable screencast can potentially save lots of time in the future though. 

Examples of how I've used screencasts


Explaining the requirements of part of an assessment package and going over key content - 



Academic Skills: Giving tips on how to do referencing efficiently - 



Explaining how an essay could be structured - 



Giving feedback to the group that complements individual comments on their submission - 



Practising for, and producing a recording of, a presentation given at a conference - 


Further Reading

Morris, C. and Chikwa, G. (2014). Screencasts: how effective are they and how do students engage with them? Active Learning in Higher Education, 15, 25-37. 


Physiology Lab Report Help

posted Dec 6, 2017, 1:43 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Dec 6, 2017, 11:00 AM ]

Any sport and exercise undergrad will at some point be involved in a lab based assessment of aerobic capacity. In supporting my first year students in writing a lab report I put together a series of useful links from my website. 

I thought others might find them useful as well so here they are.

They all have a combination of relevant content as well as many links to further recommended reading and references that could be used to help produce the subsequent lab report. 

Some are focused on possible topics for consideration in the report itself and some are there to help produce a better quality lab report.



  • This page outlines a number of CV adaptations that occur with training. Don't confuse these with the short term response that we see in the test itself but in the discussion you might want to consider a paragraph on the different expected responses between trained and untrained and this page has some good references to read and make use of http://www.benjanefitness.com/cvadaptations

New video resource: How to make referencing easier

posted Nov 29, 2017, 7:35 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Nov 29, 2017, 8:11 AM ]



I regularly find myself talking to students about  the process of finding and presenting suitable citations in a piece of coursework for submission. 

Students must first grasp an understanding of the importance of referencing in academic work in general and then know the requirements of any particular institutional style. There are however, many students that seem to get stuck around this stage and continue to use labour intensive methods of including a citation within the text or the full reference at the end of the work. 

This short (4 min) video outline two methods that I personally use when I am preparing lectures or writing articles. The first method makes use of the cite function in Google Scholar and the second method makes use of Mendeley and the Word citation plugin that is available. 

Crucially, neither method requires me to type out every detail in the reference. If you are a student and are still typing out every aspect of the source's details for every reference then you should watch this video. 




Related Links


New Resource: Better Paragraphs = Better Grades

posted Nov 29, 2017, 5:56 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Nov 29, 2017, 7:58 AM ]

Recently, I've found myself having many conversations with students that are in essence, me advising them on how to write better paragraphs. We tend to discuss the topic in hand and I try to highlight areas and issues that might constitute critical analysis, but much of the conversation is about the structure and flow of a good quality paragraph. 

Too many paragraphs that I read in submitted work fail to deliver the full potential of the student's knowledge and understanding. Sometimes they are too short and fail to fully explore a concept, sometimes they are too long and waffley and lose focus at some point. Whether short or overly long, they often lack clarity and purpose and are more a series of almost related sentences rather than a mini-essay with a start, a middle and an end as they should be. 

After having many such conversations with students of all stages, including both undergraduates and postgraduates, I decide to write out the advice that I have found myself repeating so often. In the following link, readers will find advice on how to structure academic paragraphs, tasks to help develop academic writing skills and further links and resources on related topics. 

The full resource can be found here





My Dangerous Commute to Work

posted Nov 22, 2017, 4:41 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Nov 22, 2017, 4:42 AM ]

Through a combination of good luck and effort on my part, I've been fortunate enough to cycle to work for over twenty years now. That time period covers 2 cities, 5 jobs and 10 residential addresses. 

In all that time, I've loved my ride to work and even more so my ride home. It's a great way of getting exercise, beating the traffic, being environmentally friendly and having a stress-free buffer between home and work. 

The last few months however have been the most stressful, scary and dangerous that I have experienced in all of that time and that is entirely down to the major roadworks that have been taking place around Derriford, in Plymouth.

While there may be longer term improvements in cycle infrastructure waiting on the other side of these roadworks, we are currently ten months into a fifteen month project and throughout that period cyclists seem to have been treated as second class citizens at most opportunities. 

I've taken the liberty of outlining all the areas that I have felt more exposed to danger due to the ever-changing closures, re-alignments and general road management that has taken place during the project so far. 

While I understand that we need to take a step backwards sometimes in order to see progress I think more effort has been needed in liaising with cyclists throughout the renovations and in making sure that clear access routes are maintained for cyclists just as they have been for motor traffic.


New Resource: Chronic Exercise-Induced Cardio-Respiratory Adaptations

posted Jun 30, 2017, 5:28 AM by Ben Jane

Anyone interested in improving performance, whether it be for sport or for general everyday living, should take an interest in the underlying factors that limit performance and the potential that these factors have for improvement.

Why the need for understanding the physiological adaptations?

An understanding of how various aspects of our physiology adapt when placed under conditions of stress can allow a coach or exercise professional to construct an exercise programme that will create the right level of stress and overload to elicit positive adaptations and improve fitness yet limit subsequent levels of unwanted fatigue. 

There are lots of good exercise physiology textbooks that cover this topic however they aren't available to everyone and vary in the levels of ease with which they communicate the subject knowledge. After teaching on a number of courses where I thought student's levels of understanding could be improved I've put this resource page together. It's been produced in a way that I hope is accessible to those who just need key exercise physiology knowledge yet also contains content that can extend and support more advanced students.

The full resource page can be accessed at www.benjanefitness.com/cvadaptations








(Re) Naming and (Re) Framing NCDs

posted Jun 22, 2017, 8:10 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Jun 23, 2017, 12:58 AM ]

The term "Non-Communicable Disease" or NCD is used in a wide range of public health settings and refers to a medical condition or disease that is not caused by infectious agents. It is however, a group of conditions that the public health community has had mixed success in addressing.

In this month's edition of The Lancet Global Health, Luke Allen and Andrea Feigl have presented their work on the renaming of NCDs and the idea that a new name could have a positive effect on the ability to make more significant in-roads in reducing the prevalence of a wide range of diseases.

The idea is presented that the term "non-communicable disease" makes it hard for policy makers and the general public to fully comprehend the range of social influences on their own health and that of others.


Reframing Non-Communicable Diseases as Socially Transmitted Conditions (SCTs)

The authors highlight the core characteristics of all NCDs pointing out the levels of global burden, the preventable nature of NCDs and the various risk factors and determinants. 

They also highlight the increasing awareness of commercial influence and socioeconomic inequalities that are best addressed at political and strategic levels rather than focussing solely on aspects of personal control and behaviour and advocate shifting the focus of interventions further upstream (see image below for an example from Let's Get Healthy California)



"STCs are driven by urbanisation, industrialisation, and poverty, the availability of tobacco, alcohol, and processed foods, and physical inactivity. STCs also share a common set of solutions focused on addressing the complex and often unjust structure of society"
(Allen & Feigl, 2017)


To read the paper and to review the discussions that informed and underpinned it see the link below.


Read the paper here

Allen, L. N., & Feigl, A. B. (2017). Reframing non-communicable diseases as socially transmitted conditions. The Lancet Global Health, 5(7), e644-e646.

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