What we talk about when we talk about research findings in the news

What happens when journalists report the findings of a scientific study to the general public? Often, the findings are stated out of context, broadly interpreted, and stripped of the nuance and uncertainty that characterize much of scientific research.  Should this scare us back from publicizing findings to a wider audience than you might typically find in a scientific journal? Or is publicity critical to uptake?

What is our responsibility as scientists to communicate our findings, not only through dedicated dissemination and implementation planning, but also through the popular press?

Here’s a recent example. JAMA published the findings of a study by Mandager et al.  on the association of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) with long-term mortality. CRF was measured by exercise treadmill testing in a sample of over 120,000 patients who were having this test done anyway as part of their care (that means these people were mostly being evaluated for symptoms potentially related to cardiovascular disease). The investigators quantified CRF as peak estimated METs. They separated by sex and age to calculate percentiles and then stratified CRF based on those percentiles. They used public and hospital records to determine mortality. Median follow-up was 8.4 years. The investigators concluded that CRF was significantly inversely associated with all-cause mortality (i.e., the fitter you are, the less likely you are to die). They went on to state that low CRF was as risky as or riskier than diabetes, CAD, or smoking. They also noted, importantly, that “there does not appear to be an upper limit of aerobic fitness above which a survival benefit is no longer observed”, but “there continues to be uncertainty regarding the relative benefit or potential risk of extreme levels of exercise and fitness”. They go on to offer several other sensible caveats, including that the study population may not be representative of the general population, and there are potentially significant unmeasured factors in this retrospective study. All things considered, though, this seems to represent very good news: a modifiable factor is strongly associated with increased longevity in a large sample with a long follow-up.  Bravo!

So how did this get reported in the popular press? Gizmodo’s headline reads “No Such Thing As Too Much Exercise, Study Finds”.

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It’s the iliopsoas, stupid!

What do low back pain, knee problems, poor pelvic alignment, hip popping, and weak glute muscles have in common? Besides the fact that all of these things suck and they are common complaints in my clinic. . . read on.

illustration of iliopsoas musclesThe iliopsoas (the p is silent) muscles run from the lumbar vertebrae (lower back) and interior of the ilium (hip/pelvis bones) to the inside of the femur (thigh bone). There are actually two muscles that make up this group: the psoas major (origin at T12-L5 vertebrae) and the iliacus (origin at iliac fossa of ilium). They are generally considered together, and they generally act together and insert together at the lesser trochanter of the femur. Phew. Ok. Why should you care about these little dudes?

Mirror muscles, they are not. Because they’re located deep to other structures, it’s not easy to see and feel them, so many people aren’t even aware that they’re there until something goes awry. But they are critically important to function and performance. The iliopsoas mucles are major hip flexors, pulling the thigh up to the abdomen, and stabilizers of the trunk and pelvis. They get major action with movements like running and cycling, or the constant external rotation of things like ballet, but they can also get weak and tight from sitting in a chair for long periods of time. Think about where those muscles go and what your position is doing to them. Sitting followed by hard training? That sounds like a perfect storm. No wonder they are often troublemakers!

What happens when things aren’t right in iliopsoas land? Sometimes it’s hip-specific problems like:

  • snapping hip syndrome, thought to be related to iliopsoas tendinitis or tendinosis
  • Iliopsoas bursitis, painful inflammation of the cuishioning fluid sacs
  • iliopsoas syndrome- pain and stiffness that can travel to the abdomen, butt, groin, lower back, hip, and thigh

But the trouble can also be more insidious. Continue reading

Running on a Hot Day: Why Bother?

There are lots of tips out there for how to surive running in the heat— basically, go early or late, hydrate appropriately, wear light clothing, run slower. But if you’re not training for a hot race (Badwater? what are you, nuts?), why bother?

Well, there are likely physiological benefits, so if you care about that sort of thing, or you’re looking for a performance goal, keep reading. Training in the heat can potentially improve VO2 max, blood plasma volume, sweat rate, and skeletal muscle force— and this translates into cooler conditions. Neat!

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Getting healthier– how to start if you don’t think you can start.

So many people feel lousy most of the time. And don’t know how to fix it. It’s easy to feel like wellness just a hobby for the privileged. Aside from the Gwyneth Paltrow crowd surrounded by juice bars and jade eggs, even just the idea of taking time and energy to focus on basic wellness can be a challenge for many of us. While we might think of the CEOs as busy people who can’t find time for good food and exercise, no one works harder than shift workers,  minimum-wage (or less) workers supporting families, folks with more than one job. (And yes, there are health risks associated with being poor). Feeling crappy is a problem facing all kinds of people. It’s not always as simple as joining a gym, hiring a trainer, signing up for a meal delivery service. The reality is that some folks’ lives are challenging in ways others don’t have to think about.

I was thinking about this when I stopped at a Circle K on my way home from work yesterday. Continue reading

The joys of being a beginner

For many of us, the older we get, the less we do new things. We might learn a new hobby in college, but after that, it kind of levels off. If we’ve always been into running, we might still run. If we’re into sci fi, we read more sci fi. We already know what we like, goes the thinking, so we’re good. Why spend the effort to learn an entirely new thing? Isn’t being a raw beginner frustrating and difficult and just kind of not worth it? I find the opposite is true— being a beginner is freeing, and, dare I say, fun?

In zen Buddhism, there’s a concept called shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” Continue reading

Kinesio taping: yea nor nay?

I’ve had a minor niggling calf pain for a week or so. Should I kinesio tape that sucker? Kinesio tape (also called KT tape, though technically that’s a brand name): it was a hot ticket at the olympics a few years ago (London, maybe?). I’ve used it before, for minor tweaks and sore spots. I see others at the gym doing it. Patients of mine ask about it. Professionals (hi PTs!) do it. Theoretically, kinesio taping is supposted to increase blood and lymph flow by lifting the skin— this isn’t the same as traditional athletic taping, which is meant to create stability. Because I’m a science person, I’m immediately skeptical of a claim without evidence, even if it seems generally sane.

So, let’s ask: Kinesio tape. Is it safe? Does it do anything? Should I cover myself in multi-colored tape before my next workout?
taped up and ready to run.

why yes, my KT tape does match my skoras, than you for noticing.

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