Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Moderation in Fitness

Several articles on the health benefits of alcohol caught my eye this week, and the concept of “moderation” was discussed in each. What exactly constitutes “moderation”, in this and elsewhere? What is the metric that one evaluates to determine where the line falls between too little, moderate or just enough, and too much? It’s a very interesting question because I came upon these articles at the same time that I became involved in several discussions about fitness and injuries, specifically CrossFit training and injuries.

The data for alcohol, especially regarding cardiac risk, seems to be pretty solid. People who don’t drink at all have a higher risk of having an adverse cardiac event than do those who drink “moderately.” Research has shown that moderate alcohol intake is exactly 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. More than this and not only does the cardiac benefit disappear but the adverse effects of alcohol intake (liver disease, cancers, not to mention social risks like accident) become primary. The tipping point between too little, enough, and too much is quite precise with regard to alcohol and health.

In a similar vein, the big-splash article on weight gain/loss this week also involved alcohol and the concept of “moderation.” “Moderate” drinkers were found to overeat less than both the lush and the teetotaler. Follow up data on that study showed that this effect was also present when it comes to weight gain; again, the moderate drinker gained less weight in general than either the non-drinker or the souse.

What about fitness, though? Specifically, what about CrossFit? I’m speaking here about CrossFit the fitness prescription, not CrossFit the Sport of Fitness. Indeed, when questioned about alcohol this year’s CrossFit Games’ Champion Sam Briggs said “I have no time for that stuff.” I imagine two curves super-imposed; on the X-axis we have Benefit (Fitness or Health) for the one curve, Injury for the other. The Y-axis for both is volume or perhaps Intensity. I picture the Benefit curve like a Bell Curve with a long, shallowing tail and the Injury curve one that hugs the baseline until it starts to rise with an ever-increasing slope.

The two are not un-related, of course—Injury clearly drags down the Benefit curve. Indeed, in most cases Injury probably precipitates much of the reversal of the Benefit. But where? Where on that volume curve does it happen? When does Intensity or volume tip, like a third drink, and become harmful?

The lesson lies in the alcohol story. The tipping point (tippling point?) for alcohol intake was arrived at from BOTH directions, from observations made from higher to lower, and lower to higher volume. Havoc and destruction were the markers on the high side. There seems to be little need to explore the intersection of the Benefit and Injury curves from the right side of the charts. Not when we have been taught to travel a long and shallow on-ramp to the highway of fitness, to linger on the left side of our graph in the pursuit of Form and Consistency, before we explore volume or Intensity. Coming slowly from the left side of our graph might just move both curves to the right.



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