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Most people who work out frequently cite some “common knowledge”  whenever they are asked about the number of sets, reps, or minutes spent exercising that “gets the best results.” However, these maxims are probably more likely to be firmly entrenched in folk knowledge than actual science. Take as two relevant examples, a pair of articles recentlty published in the new york times —  both of which address women specifically, but could be easily generalized to men.

The first deals with the very common belief that if you want to “get toned” rather than “getting big” you should lift lighter weights with higher rep counts. Many of the fitness sources I have consulted in the past (including my current regimen — p90x) cite this as fact. Turns out this claim is not substantiated by science. In fact, lifting heavier weights in fewer reps is a bigger boon to losing weight and “getting toned.” This strategy also works for “getting big”  but requires the addition step of heavier calorie consumption.

The second article addresses a murkier topic with much more variability with regard to “rules of thumb.” It deals with the amount of exercise needed for women to  maintain a healthy body weight. I’m actually very surprised by this one. All that a normal body weight woman needs is one hour of moderate activity or half an hour of brisk activity to avoid gaining more than five pounds over any three year period. Heavier women appear to need more (though it is not clear how much they need).

As I have said before, I am a fan of empirical work that supports one method over another. Sure it’s not always cut and dry and it rarely gives us a certain answer. But I much prefer some scientific evidence to “a guy at my gym said” or “my grandpa used to say.” Anecdotal evidence is appealing because everyone wants to have the magic remedy (especially if no one else has it), but losing weight is no different than any other difficult goal. The surest path to success is the one paved with hard work and lined with sweat.

I sprained my wrist playing basketball last night. It’s kind of amazing, I was an avid ice and roller hockey player in my youth, I’ve been downhill skiing since just after I could stand, and I regularly play sports and engage in exercise that likely increases my chances of obtaining such an injury. Despite all this, I have never had a sprained wrist.

I was at a loss for what to do. And just one short day after embarking on my p90x-periment I was concerned that it might be over before I really got started. How long would this take to heal? What could I do to make sure I got my range of motion back and that it isn’t one of those injuries that nags me for many years to come? Once again, the internet was there to inform me and comfort me. Below I will summarize my findings from many internet sources and below that I will provide you with some of the links to those sources so you can check them out yourself.

It seems the time-tested method of treating a wrist sprain is the R.I.C.E. method. I know, I know, the first time I saw it I thought it was some new-age method using a compress of dry wild grain rice (of course, the site I found this on didn’t use periods to indicate that it was an acronym). Here’s each letter explained:

  • Rest: rest the wrist 24-48 hours immediately after the injury. This means avoiding any activity that directly causes pain to the injury. Unfortunately — as I am finding — with a sprained wrist this includes most every activity, especially if you hurt the wrist of your dominant hand. It’s also made me realize that I am incredibly right-hand dominant.
  • Ice: ice the injury every 3-4 hours for 10-15 minutes at a time (no more than 20 minutes). Don’t put the ice pack directly on the skin. Instead place a towel over it first or do it through an ace bandage. Sources contradict each other on how long to engage in this, but I think will just do it until most of the pain and swelling go away.
  • Compress: compress the injury by placing it in a stint or using an ace bandage. Both of these are readily available at your local drug store and at most grocery stores as well. Being that my mother works in health care and that I have sprained my ankle in the past, I happened to have one on hand already.
  • Elevate: elevate the injury above your heart as often and for as long as possible. There may be some internal bleeding going on at the site of the injury and this helps to keep undue blood from flowing to the spot of the injury. You should also try to elevate it when you are sleeping by propping it up with a pillow.

Unfortunately I found much less consensus on how long it typically takes for an injury like this to heal. This is perhaps not surprising as every sprain is different and every person will treat it differently. Some estimates were in the 10  day range (optimistic) up to the 2-4 week range (I hope, pessimistic). I guess this will teach me not to get overly emotional and try to do too much in recreational sporting events.

I forgot to mention this before, but I also saw a suggestion in Men’s health that is pertinent. They suggested putting equal parts water and rubbing alcohol in a zip-top bag and dropping it in the freezer for an easy-to-use ice pack. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds like a good idea. That is, provided you use a good bag 😉

Links:

I’ve been a little more concerned with sleep lately than I usually am. My girlfriend and I have had some trouble recently because we both appear to have separate resting body temps (she runs hot, I run cold). To remedy this, I decided to do a little research.

My first inclination was that my bedroom might not be the appropriate temperature. I live in a basement with some shoddy construction and the winter makes it a very difficult place to heat effectively. Therefore, it’s quite possible that I am either over- or under-heating the room. Turns out, ambient air temperature can significantly affect sleep quality. Unfortunately, it appears to be difficult to determine the “best” temperature for good sleep:

Recommending a specific range is difficult…because what is comfortable for one person isn’t for another… While a typical recommendation is to keep the room between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, Heller advises setting the temperature at a comfortable level, whatever that means to the sleeper.

Looks like I will shoot for 65 degrees and adjust up from there. A couple more suggestions are worth noting. For instance, keeping the room like a cave (i.e., cool, quiet, and dark), wearing socks, and avoiding memory foam pillows. I’ll try all of these and report back.

Suggestions abound. Some appear to be reasonable, some not. Given that my day job is as a behavioral researcher I am a fan of only varying one thing at a time and seeing how it affects the outcome. My suggestion for anyone looking to improve their sleep (or any other behavior) would be the following:

  1. Do as much research on the topic as you can. First off this will help you determine which suggestions are merely guesses and which are facts. I would then attempt to order the suggestions based on two things: how consensually agreed upon they are by experts and how relevant they are to that particular individual. You may find that some of the suggestions are near laws, but that for you the individual they do not apply. Use your best discretion.
  2. Once you have your ordered list, commit to following each suggestion on the list sequentially one at a time for a period of at least a week or more. Stick to it religiously (within reason) and record your thoughts and feelings on whether it works. If you vary too many things at once, you never know which behaviors are instrumental and which are extraneous.
  3. Now that you know which suggestions work for you stick to them. Experts disagree on how long you have to stick to a behavior before it becomes habitual or automatic. This is likely a function of how hard a behavior is to learn and how hard it is to implement. In general though, most people recognize the point at which the behavior feels “normal” or “routine.”

I hope this helps. I might even take my own advice and embark on my own controlled experimental test of factors that improve my sleep…