Posted on

How a Little Science Goes a Long Way in Baseball

baseball

Barry Bonds’ 71 home runs in a single season or Clayton Kershaw’s ability to strike out 301 batters in one year may seem like magic to most of us.

While we enjoy the sense of wonder we feel witnessing these talents, not everyone is satisfied to simply sit back in astonishment. Understanding the science behind baseball’s greatest players and their feats adds to our enjoyment of the game. Read through these points to gain a deeper appreciation of how players leverage the laws of physics to optimize their performance and wow fans.

Baseball & the Science Behind Energy Transfer

Each spring when training begins, reporters across the country ask University of Illinois physics professor Dr. Nathan to discuss the science of baseball. The most common questions include: How can a ball duck or swerve so dramatically at the last minute? How do batters choose where to put the ball?

But is Dr. Nathan a sports physicist? Not by a long shot.

Dr. Nathan has spent his career studying the collision of sub-atomic particles. Like baseballs, these particles rotate on an axis at varying speeds and with varying rotations. Interestingly enough, his findings about sub-atomic particles relate directly to the science of baseball. His answers to the following questions make sense and make baseball far more calculated and complex than it can appear.

Why Is the Bat’s Sweet Spot So Important?

Players share that when the ball hits the sweet spot on the bat, it feels awesome, powerful, even “true.” From their experience and from their physical sensations in their hands, they know a ball hit on the sweet spot has the greatest chance of going far and in the intended direction.

Physics makes the thrill of the sweet spot clear. First, understand that the bat is not a rigid object. Watch any slow-motion replay of a great hit. If the ball connects on the sweet spot there isn’t much bat movement. If the ball hits above or below the sweet spot, the bat vibrates, even to the point of hurting the player’s hands.

The energy and momentum of the ball transfers to the bat, causing a violent collision. If it hits where the bat can best deflect the energy, that energy transfers back to the ball, sending it in the opposite direction with the most force. If the ball hits higher or lower than the sweet spot, much of its energy transfers to the bat. This is what makes the bat vibrate. Therefore, at the sweet spot, you get the most pop.

How Do Pitches Change Course at the Last Minute?

The goal of the batter is to estimate where the ball will be when it crosses home plate. He does this by watching the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hands, but at about twenty feet away the batter can no longer process the movement of the ball. His vision and decision-making capacities cannot keep up with the ball’s speed. Therefore, it’s critical for the pitcher to throw the ball in a way that makes it change course in those last twenty feet.

Pitchers can make the ball drop, rise, and veer left or right by manipulating speed, rotation (spin), and the axis around which the ball spins. Dr. Nathan has determined that, due to the laws of movement and momentum, a small motion put on the ball at the beginning of the throw continues to build throughout the ball’s trajectory. This small movement can be nearly undetectable to the batter. And the more unpredictable a pitcher you are, the more strikes you achieve.

How Do Batters Direct Balls to an Intended Spot on the Field?

It’s not only the pitcher that puts spin on a ball. The batter, too, can make a ball harder to catch. Excellent batters can determine whether to put top spin or bottom spin on a ball, depending on the goal they want to achieve that inning. They put top spin on a ball by hitting it with the top of the bat so that it torques downward. The long grounder causes the infielders and outfielders both to scramble. The batter may choose to put a bottom spin on a ball to force the ball upward for a pop fly or even a foul. The energy from the ball hitting the bat off-center creates friction which can even lead to burning the ball. Even though the ball maintains contains contact with the bat for only one-thousandths of a second, it’s a violent energy transfer.

Why Do Bats Break in the Middle Rather Than Where the Ball Makes Contact?

When the ball hits the bat outside of the sweet spot, the bat bows or vibrates drastically. The outside wood fibers stretch, feeling the most stress where the most dramatic arc occurs — in the middle of the bat. The ball may have initiated the bend, but it didn’t cause the wood fibers to break. It’s the bend, not the ball itself that breaks the bat.

Scientists reverse engineer what baseball players learn from muscle memory and experience. Still, knowing some science of baseball could help both players and fans respect the game and its intricacy.

Posted on

Tees and Tots: How Kids Can Benefit From Playing Golf

kids golf

Golf is picking up in popularity with America’s youth these days, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With childhood obesity rates skyrocketing in recent years, there’s no time like the present to get kids out of the house and moving around. However, there are many advantages to the early adoption of golf, in addition to the physical benefits, that are valuable for our youths. Along with requiring children to adhere to proper etiquette and follow rules, golf provides many other social, physical, and emotional benefits as well.

Social Benefits

Golfing has always been a social sport, and that benefit is not reserved for the adults who enjoy the game. With a relatively low barrier to entry, individuals of any age can step onto a course and play, making it a sport well-suited to demographic diversity that can introduce children to a gamut of social interactions. Golf also offers a perfect venue for positive parent/child interactions. It can be a great way to encourage quality time and bonding between a parent and child, which can set the stage for a lasting relationship.

This sport also requires that children mind their manners and conduct themselves respectfully while on the course. In addition to etiquette, golf helps children learn to problem solve, use numbers, and be confident in their abilities while also improving on their weaknesses.

Physical Benefits

In a world of technology, it’s easy for children to stop playing outside and start spending more and more time indoors, in front of screens. This can make it challenging for parents who are trying to get their kids to participate in more physical activities. Golf can provide an alternate means of enjoyment outside of the realm of video games. And because it’s open to all skill levels, it has the benefit of being an easy choice for children that might otherwise shy away from sports. As a non-contact and low-impact sport, it doesn’t require a child to be the strongest, fastest, or biggest in order to be successful or enjoy themselves.

Emotional Benefits

Children require development of their emotional fitness just as much as those physical and social counterparts. Golf helps develop the youth’s emotional health by encouraging self-improvement and challenging them to persevere through frustrations. It requires players to self-analyze, practice, and accept encouragement and constructive critique from coaches and peers. With both achievements and disappointments on the horizon, little players must learn to sustain a positive outlook, learn from their mistakes, and “shake it off” when they fall short so that past faults do not affect current performance or future results.

Because golf is a game of self-improvement, it requires the player to focus on their performance, and it eliminates the opportunity to easily ascribe shortfalls to team members. This can help instill autonomy and responsibility, and nurture the self-confidence that is so vital to living a long and happy life.

Golf is a great way to encourage the home-bound child to get out and spend a day in nature having some good old-fashioned fun on the green, and it can offer many lessons to today’s youth. Several parallels can be drawn between this game and the challenges and successes inherent in society. Golf requires the child to practice emotional management, positivity, proper planning, clear focus, good social skills, and perseverance. It also helps them assess both the task at hand as well as the bigger picture. As children learn how to conduct themselves properly while they are on the course, they are also learning how to become happy, healthy, successful members of society.

Posted on

The Top 10 Fitness Trends of 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

If you’re aiming to get in shape this year, check out the top 10 Fitness Trends for 2016, according to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
fitness trends 2016

Share this Image On Your Site

1) Wearable Technology
Wearable tech is all the rage, and these unique devices can help you to get the most out of your workouts. Examples of wearable tech include smart watches and fitness trackers (like Apple Watch, Garmin and Fitbit), heart rate monitors, and GPS tracking units. Wearable tech can help you keep track of valuable fitness data, like total calories burned, distance, and heart rate.

How can you participate? Wearable tech is available commercially. Prices are decreasing as the tech becomes increasingly popular.

2) Body Weight Training
Body weight training is pretty old school—basically, it involves using your own body weight to train and exercise your muscles. Push-ups and pull-ups are classic examples of effective body-weight training exercises. When done correctly, and performed consistently, this type of training can be extremely efficient when it comes to burning fat and building muscle.

How can you participate? The great thing about body weight exercises is that they can be done anywhere!

3) High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
A relatively new workout, HIIT features intense bursts of activity over short time periods with brief intervals of rest in between. HIIT workouts are only done for about 30 minute periods, and they typically feature exercises like running, push-ups, burpees, or squatting all blended together. HIIT is an extremely effective workout: HIIT keeps intensity high, which helps to boost a person’s aerobic and anaerobic endurance levels. Because HIIT often blends multiple high-intensity exercises together, some argue that HIIT is a more effective workout than more traditional cardio activities, like running.

How can you participate? HIIT can be done at home, though some gyms offer HIIT classes too.

4) Strength Training
Strength training basically involves using weighted resistance (e.g. free weights or weight machines) to build muscle strength, increase flexibility and boost overall aerobic levels. A classic workout, strength training is a mainstay of most gyms, and it’s a great and fun way to build muscle.

How can you participate? You can use free weights at home, or you can use larger weights or weight machines at a gym.

5) Educated and Experienced Fitness Professionals
People are more concerned about their health and fitness than ever before. That’s why there’s an increased demand for fitness professionals who understand all aspects of health and fitness, from exercise to dieting. There’s a growing need for fully certified fitness professionals who have a wide ranging but detailed fitness education, and individuals are actively looking for professionals who can help them make the lifestyle changes needed to accomplish their fitness goals.

How can you participate? From personal trainers to nutritionists, there are plenty of fitness professionals out there who are available for consultation.

6) Personal Training
Personal trainers are educated and certified fitness professionals who specialize in helping their clients achieve their fitness goals. Some personal trainers focus solely on exercising, while others offer advice and guidance on both exercise and important lifestyle changes, such as dieting. A personal trainer can create a custom workout that can help a person accomplish specific goals (e.g. build core strength, lose weight, etc.), and they can also assist by motivating a person when they’re having a tough time with a workout.

How can you participate? Most gyms offer personal training.

7) Functional Fitness
Functional fitness is exactly what it sounds like: it’s meant to be functional, helping individuals to build overall strength to make certain everyday, practical activities or movements easier. Functional fitness and fitness programs for older adults are similar—they both focus on helping individuals improve mobility and strength, and they help to make certain movements (which could become challenging for older individuals) a little easier. However, functional fitness is meant for a wide range of adults, while fitness for older adults is mostly meant for the elderly.

How can you participate? Functional fitness can be done at home, but there are also gyms and community centers that offer functional fitness programs.

8) Fitness Programs for Older Adults
By using lightweights and performing certain aerobic exercises on a regular basis, an elderly or older adult can gradually boost their mobility and strength, which can improve their overall quality of living.

How can you participate? Gyms, community centers and senior care centers often offer fitness programs for older adults.


9) Exercise and Weight Loss
According to the CDC, over 1/3 of adults (that’s roughly 78.6 million) are obese. One of the best ways to prevent obesity and lose weight is through regular, daily exercise—that’s why weight-loss-targeting exercise is becoming exceedingly popular throughout the U.S.

How can you participate? Weight-loss exercises, like running or strength training, can be done at home, at a gym or with others in a fitness class.

10) Yoga
An ancient physical art form, yoga has experienced a spike in popularity in recent decades. Yoga, generally speaking, is an exercise that features a number of postures and poses, which when done regularly, can help to improve mobility, strength, flexibility, breathing and blood flow. There are a number of different yoga disciplines. For example, Ananda Yoga focuses on meditation, Bikram is physically demanding (since it involves performing tough poses in a 105-degree-heated room) and Power Yoga is designed to help boost muscle strength.

How can you participate? Yoga studios are extremely common—it’s all about trying to find the right studio that fits your fitness needs.

 

Other trends for 2016:

  • Group Personal Training
  • Worksite Health Promotion
  • Wellness Coaching
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Sport-specific Training
  • Flexibility and Mobility Rollers
  • Smartphone Exercise Apps
  • Circuit Training
  • Core Training
  • Outcome Measurements
Posted on

The Effects of Sports on Relationships

sports

It may sound a little surprising to hear that participating in sports can be a great relationship-builder – after all, aren’t many sports created around the idea of fierce competition and rivalry? Yet studies have shown that people who grew up playing sports have more finely developed social skills than those who did not, in part due to the self-esteem boosts created by participation and feeling like part of a team. Whether you’re on the winning side or the side that’s just happy to be there, there are many positive benefits to playing sports – especially when it comes to developing lasting relationships with others.

Building Better Relationships Through Sport

Many of us had the experience of playing sports as children. Whether in a recreational league or something more professional, there’s a reason why sports are recommended for kids and teens: because they help one feel as though they’re a part of something. There’s a sense of belonging that comes with playing sports as part of a team, as well as a significant boost in self-esteem. It’s where many important social skills are learned, including acceptance of others, support of our peers, and the value of competition.

In a study of high school senior students involved in sports, a whitepaper by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that shy students in particular were able to improve their social skills through sports, stating that:

“In terms of the effect of sport participation on shyness, a longitudinal study with measurement at baseline and one year later found that sport was positively associated with positive adjustment (e.g. social skills and self-esteem) and that sport played a uniquely protective role for shy children, with shy children who participated in sport over time reporting significant decreases in anxiety.”

Sports bringing shy children out of their shells may sound surprising, but being part of a team can help introverted people learn how to develop relationships in a beneficial environment.

The whitepaper also makes a point towards physical fitness as being a building block for social skills and the ability to create strong relationships: “For example, there are relationships between physical fitness and mental state; and interpersonal relationships may satisfy needs for belongingness and, as such, influence psychological health. Another example is resilience, whereby psychological health may influence an individual’s capacity to engage in interpersonal relationships.” So not only are sports good for physical fitness, but they also increase a person’s emotional fitness when it comes to relating to others.

How to Make Sports More Social

Long after the developmental stage has passed, sports can continue to act as a positive outlet for people to bond with their peers through teamwork and friendly competition. Whether you know your teammates before you sign up or you use sports leagues to meet new people, even something as simple as a recreational league can have a big impact on your interpersonal relationship skills. For those who might be introverted or susceptible to depression, being a part of a sports team can help provide motivation for getting out of the house and being active, as well as giving a person a sense of self-worth – after all, other people are counting on them to be there.

Sports can also help build relationships with family, whether it’s encouraging your siblings to join a rec league with you, playing tennis with your spouse, or simply throwing a baseball with your child. Working together as a team can put new perspectives and value on familial relationships, plus it’s a good way to air out any potential grievances or simply talk things out while tossing around a football. Playing sports for fun – or for lighthearted bragging rights – ought to be a part of every family get-together, since they encourage the participation of everyone and make all members feel as though they have a part to play.

Lastly, since much of the world is focused on online relationships and social networks, why not incorporate this into your athletics? These days, technology is available to let you record and share your sports performance metrics and highlight reels across social platforms, which means that you can get instant feedback and encouragement from your friends online. Even if you’re working out alone, you’re still able to use sports to build relationships through social media – you can have a “virtual” team on your side.

Conclusion

Rather than promoting a “one versus all” mentality, sports can actually have a hugely beneficial effect on building and maintaining good interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s through meeting new people as rec league teammates, bringing family and friends together to play a pickup game, or using your athletic performance tracker to connect with an online community, sports can be a building block for healthy, long-lasting relationships.

Posted on

Evolution of Sport: Skateboarding

skateboarding

No longer the realm of slackers and young kids, skateboarding has evolved into an industry full of complicated tricks and techniques, high-profile tournaments, celebrity athletes, and a much-deserved spot as one of the most recognized and celebrated sports in the United States today. But where did it all begin, and how did it go from being a hobby of surfers to an extreme sport? Skateboarding has had a fascinating journey from underground counterculture sport to a billion-dollar industry – let’s take a look at the timeline that took skateboarding from then until now.

1950s

This was the earliest known advent of what we would recognize as traditional skateboarding, beginning in California, where surfers invented a plank on wheels to simulate surfing on land. According to Wikipedia, the first skateboards were originally manufactured for surfers to use when they weren’t in the water. Crafted out of square wooden boards with a set of skate wheels from roller skates, Wikipedia notes that “skateboarding was originally denoted ‘sidewalk surfing’ and early skaters emulated surfing style and maneuvers, and performed barefoot.”

1960s

Skateboarding began to take off in Southern California, with manufacturing companies popping up to specifically create skate decks and hold competitions. A timeline in Skateboarding Magazine pegs 1963 as the year that the sport’s popularity soared: “Companies such as Jack’s, Hobie, and Makaha started having real competitions consisting of Downhill Slalom and Freestyle where skaters like Torger Johnson, Woody Woodward and Danny Berer paved the way for future skaters.” Clay wheels were also introduced in this decade, but this invention may have actually contributed to skateboarding’s decline in the latter half of the 1960s – they weren’t particularly safe, and injuries increased.

1970s

It took a new type of wheel to bring skateboarding back into the spotlight. With the invention of polyurethane wheels, created by Frank Nasworthy, skateboarding once again became popular – not to mention a lot smoother thanks to the new wheels. In 1975, a massive skateboarding tournament – the Del Mar National Championships – was held, birthing the Santa Monica legends known as the Zephyr skate team, later dubbed the “Z-Boys.” These twelve skaters (notable names include Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta) would influence the style and techniques of skateboarders for years to come, and the Del Mar National Championships would bring about a new era of skateboarding tournaments with cash prizes.

1980s

Now that the standard skate deck was established – with the additional option of larger, softer polyurethane wheels – focus was shifted to the types of ramps available, and the various tricks that could be performed on them. The construction of vertical ramps or “vert ramps” led to Alan Gelfand’s creation of the no-hands aerial – better known as the ollie – followed by the grabbed aerial, invented by George Orton and Tony Alva. “While this wave of skateboarding was sparked by commercialized vert ramp skating, a majority of people who skateboarded during this period didn’t ride vert ramps,” says the Wikipedia entry. Skateboarding Magazine chalks this up to the fact that many skaters couldn’t afford the lumber to create ramps, but “they saw the whole world as [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][their] skatepark and took to the streets. During this time many new board shapes took form allowing for skaters to overcome obstacles otherwise impossible.”

1990s

Street skateboarding rose to prominence in the 90s, causing yet another shift in wheel technology – this time back to smaller, harder polyurethane wheels. “The wheel sizes are relatively small so that the boards are lighter, and the wheels’ inertia is overcome quicker, thus making tricks more manageable,” explains Wikipedia. This was also the time that skateboarding began to intertwine with punk music and culture, and in 1995, ESPN held the inaugural – and extremely successful – X-Games. Skateboarding’s evolution into an extreme sport had begun. (Not coincidentally, it was in 1999 that Tony Hawk landed the “900,” a trick involving completing two-and-a-half mid-air revolutions).

2000s-Present Day

Due to the mainstream success of skateboarding as an extreme sport, more and more people of all ages have begun to take up skateboarding as a hobby and an athletic pursuit. Skateboarding Magazine credits this to the fact that “pros make real money. Wining events can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kids are realizing that you don’t have to become a doctor or lawyer to make a buck.” Now that skateparks have begun to be incorporated into city landscapes, there are more places than ever to practice. Plus, digital technology is making it easier than ever to record skateboarding tricks. Products like Blast Action Replay make it easy for skaters to play back recorded highlight reels of their tricks with overlaid metrics. This gives them the opportunity to analyze their movements and discover technical improvements they can make, as well as share their footage via social media through the Blast app.

Conclusion

It may have taken a half-century, but skateboarding has proven that it’s more than just a passing fad. As one of America’s favorite extreme sports, the tricks have become more impressive, the famous names have become well-known, and the championship prizes have become even bigger. It’s no wonder that skateboarding remains both a popular pastime and a potential athletic career choice.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Posted on

What’s in Store for the 50th Anniversary of Football’s Biggest Weekend

football

It’s the event that football fans wait for all year: the final game of the season, and one of the most extravagant sports matches you’ll ever see. In between the epic halftime show, the tailgating, and the expensive commercials throughout the television broadcast, there’s actually a football game that takes place, and it’s for one of the most hyped trophies in sports. But even if you know nothing about the rules of American football, there’s still plenty to enjoy about this storied weekend.

This year is an extra special occurrence: It’s the 50th anniversary of football’s biggest Sunday, and neither athletes nor advertisers are going to let the golden anniversary slide by without making an occasion out of it. Let’s take a look at some of the current plans for events and celebration:

Who’s Playing the Game

The Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos are going head to head this weekend to see who will take home the championship. (If you’re looking to dabble in putting some money down on a favorite team, you won’t be alone – this is the biggest event for sports betting, bar none. There are even prop bets on the anthem singer forgetting words!) It’s a guarantee that fans on both sides will be out in full force to support their teams in hopes that their pick will be lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Who’s Performing the Halftime Show

Rumors had been swirling across the Internet for months about who would be named to headline – generally considered a rather prestigious honor. “In late November, 2015, reports surfaced stating that “multiple acts” would perform during the halftime show,” says Wikipedia. “On December 3, the league confirmed that the show would be headlined by the British rock group Coldplay.” Later, it was also confirmed that previous halftime acts Beyoncé and Bruno Mars would be making return appearances to perform. Even though some hardcore sports fans may use halftime to go refill their bowls of snacks, there’s still a large contingent of people who tune in simply to watch their favorite bands on one of television’s biggest stages.

When and Where It’s Taking Place

This year’s event is happening on Sunday February 7th, marking the end of the 2015-16 football season. As always, the championship game takes place on neutral ground – that is, a football stadium that isn’t home turf for either team, just to remove any notion of home crowd favoritism. For 2016, the event is being held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California – the first time the big game has been played in California since 1985, according to Wikipedia. But even before kickoff, there are numerous events taking place in and around Santa Clara and San Francisco to celebrate the sport. “More than 1 million people are expected to attend the festivities in San Francisco,” says Wikipedia, and “in addition, there are $2 million worth of other ancillary events, including a week-long event at the Santa Clara Convention Center, a beer, wine and food festival at Bellomy Field at Santa Clara University, and a pep rally.” No matter where it takes place, football’s prime matchup is always big business, bringing in tons of revenue for its host city’s establishments.

Why It’s the Biggest Event in Advertising

It goes without saying that football is the sport that brings in the most advertising revenue in the United States. Many other television programs that go up against football programs find that their ratings on that night drop instantly, simply because everybody in America is tuned in to the game. And there’s no Sunday in the year quite like the one where the big game falls – advertisers are more than willing to drop big bucks for 30-second ads to air during the event.

Noting the approximated 114.4 million viewers who tuned in to last year’s showdown, an article at Fortune states that although last year’s base price for ads was $4.5 million, this year it’s gone up 11% to $5 million. “Between 2005 and 2014, the price of a 30-spot has increased 75%, generating a total of $2.19 billion in sales,” the article reports. Combine these legendary big-budget ads (many of which are exclusive to the American broadcast) with the colorful halftime show, and the actual football game itself is almost eclipsed by comparison.

Conclusion

Whether you’re getting ready to paint your face with your team’s colors or you’re excited to witness the new commercials the moment they air, there’s no doubt that this event will be huge for sports fans and pop culture aficionados alike. Just be sure to stock up on guacamole, and maybe grab a football so you can have a quick game of catch in between plays.

Posted on

How Exercise Affects Your Immunity and Well-Being

It is understood that in order to achieve supreme health, you need a balance between daily exercise and a wholesome, nutritious diet. A combination of good diet and exercise reduces the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and depression, and improves energy – to name a few. But how much exercise does it take to truly influence your health?

jcurve

Exercise does influence your immune system in a positive way, but it has been said that too much exercise weakens it. For a competitive athlete or fitness enthusiast, pushing yourself and perfecting your sport is innate, which is why it can be tricky to find the right balance. There are many variables when considering how the immune system responds to rigorous or moderate physical activity and stress. The purpose of this piece is to explore the immune system and develop a better understanding of how athletes can avoid illness (see a related e-book on avoiding injury) without compromising their performance goals.

What is the immune system and how does it work?

Everyone’s body is equipped with his or her own immune system. This system is made up of various organs, cells, and proteins that protect the body from harmful influences, such as viruses, pathogens (germs), and bacteria. Illness can occur when the body’s immune system is not performing at top levels. The main duties of the immune system include: recognizing, working against, and removing harmful germs, parasites, and viruses that have entered the body; and fighting against the body’s own cells that have altered due to an illness, such as cancerous cells.

How does physical activity influence the immune system?

Similar to how a combination of diet and exercise creates a healthy lifestyle; a balanced training program of exercise and rest leads to better athletic performance, thus supporting a healthy immune system.

According to research, epidemiological studies suggest that unusually heavy or chronic exercise is associated with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). In other words, when athletes push themselves too hard in training, it is not unusual to hear that they encounter frequent URTIs.  This tends to occur in those that have just completed a marathon race. Usually one or two weeks after a marathon-type race, runners that engage in heavy exertion are more likely to be at risk of URTIs because of the negative changes in immune function and increase of their stress hormones. Within this same study, moderate amounts of physical activity can reduce one’s risk of URTIs due to the positive changes in immune function without the influence of stress hormones.

Researchers demonstrate the relationship between exercise and URTIs through a model entitled the “J” Curve, where a curve initially falls, but then rises to higher than the starting point. The model is broken up into three activity categories: sedentary, moderate, and vigorous.  The curve is individualized based upon each person’s physical makeup, meaning that what may be vigorous for one individual could be moderate for another.

Stress

Stress is defined as a state of mental tension, something that causes feelings of anxiety or physical force. The impact that stress has on your body and brain can be related to how your body fights against harmful influences. Reoccurring stress can lead to a weakened immune system because the brain sends signals to the endocrine system, a collection of glands that produces hormones that regulate things such as metabolism, sleep, and mood among others.

There are three hormones that make up the stress system: Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine.

  • Adrenaline is known as the “flight or fight” hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands and is known for notifying the brain immediately when a stressful situation occurs.
  • Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline, in that it is also released in the adrenal glands and its primary role is arousal. This hormone is responsible for getting your heart and blood pumping.
  • Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, known as the stress hormone. Although it takes more time, minutes versus seconds, for the brain to receive a surge of cortisol; when in survival mode, cortisol maintains fluid balance and blood pressure. Alternatively, when you tap into the stress hormone and are excreting too much cortisol, you can suppress the immune system.

According to experts, stress is responsible for as much as 90% of all illnesses and diseases, including cancer and heart disease. An example of good stress is when bursts of stress hormones are excreted to release the tensions of anxiety or to give the body a surge of energy. When chronic stress occurs in the body, high levels of stress hormones are circulated for longer periods of time than intended, thus weakening the immune system.

Athletes who are under a lot of pressure for their performance may encounter extreme cases of stress. This leads to anxiety, body tension (which can cause physical injuries), and a decrease in sleep quality, overtraining, and negative effects to their attention, memory, and decision-making.

Finding Balance

Sometimes mind over body is not the answer. When it comes to your health, you want to make sure you are conscious on how far you are pushing yourself. It is normal to want to be a better athlete or to accomplish that new PR (personal record). But the best way to achieve your goals is to stay healthy. This means listening to your body and recognizing early signs of stress. The following are some ways to balance your training schedule and keep your immunity strong:

  • Develop a well-balanced training program. Make sure you are not solely focusing on one type of vigorous training. You want to thread other exercises and training such as meditation, yoga, and rest days throughout your schedule.
  • Keep a training log. Similar to a journal that encompasses your thoughts and feelings, keep a log of how you felt during each workout. It is helpful to rate such events based on difficulty. If you noticed yourself becoming increasingly tired or feel pressure, incorporate an extra rest day or low intensity exercises into your training.
  • Hone in on early warning signs. You can take the steps necessary (which may include consulting a doctor) to avoid weakening your immune system if you notice yourself feeling any of the following: insomnia or not having quality sleep, mood alterations or signs of depression, decrease of physical energy, extreme muscle soreness, frequent injury or illness, poor concentration, lack of appetite. 
  • Acknowledge other stresses and adjust your training accordingly. As an athlete, your sport is important, but there are other responsibilities to attend to. Some of which we can control, such as paying bills, going to school, working a job; others can be unexpected, such as a family illness. Either way, you want to take your other responsibilities and commitments into consideration. Make sure you are not over-scheduling yourself, and be kind to your body when the unexpected occurs. 
  • Be sure you are eating lean, mean, and green. You want to receive most, if not all, of your nutrients from fruits, proteins, and vegetables. Do not indulge excessively in refined sugar or alcohol. And consult a dietician for more detailed recommendations.
Posted on

Benefits of Recreational Sports on Adults

As children and teenagers, many of us had the experience of participating in recreational sports leagues including baseball, softball and basketball. Not only were they a good place to bond with our friends (and make new ones), they also got us moving and helped foster a competitive – and cooperative – spirit. Yet as adults, a lot of people don’t tend to consider sports as a feasible hobby; between work hours and family activities, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day. However, recreational sports have multiple benefits for adults, just as they do for kids and teens – in fact, adults are likely much more in need of the physical and psychological boosts that playing rec league sports can provide.

golf

Not convinced? Then let’s examine some of the rewards that come with playing recreational sports as an adult – you’ll be signing up at your local community center and investing in an athletic performance enhancer in no time.

The physical benefits

Adults are told by everyone from the media to doctors to family members that being active is important, and they’re correct. Making sure you get in at least half an hour of exercise every day can help you feel more energized, lower your blood pressure, and strengthen your bones and muscles, according to the Heart Foundation of Australia. Not only that, but getting in some physical exercise can go a long way towards stress management, which is vital in this day and age. So what better place to reap all these benefits than in a recreational sports league?

Rec leagues are the perfect solution for anyone who loves the competitive nature and team environment of sports. You’ll get in your regular exercise, plus you’ll be able to have fun doing it – as well as getting out and being social with a bunch of likeminded peers. It can be the perfect stress buster at the end of a long work day, as well as good motivation to get out and get moving – even if you don’t want to. You won’t want to let your team down, right?

The psychological bonuses

As mentioned briefly above, it’s not just the physical aspect of recreational sports that can benefit adults – it also comes on the mental and psychological sides. Aside from being a stress reliever, playing a sport as part of a team – whether just for fun or on a competitive level – can do wonders for one’s mental health and self-esteem. An article from the Bennington Banner notes that “though research shows that fitness results vary by individual, there are valid socio-emotional health benefits to participating in group or team athletics, in either a competitive or recreational setting.” The article goes on to discuss how important goal-setting is for adults, as well as the motivation that comes when you feel obligated to show up and be part of a team. Having a scheduled practice, it says, is also good for simply getting people out of the house and being social, which can be a struggle if a person is susceptible to depression, isolating behavior, or loneliness. Being a part of a rec league can potentially give that person the motivation and drive to get out and be around other people, as well as a boost in self-esteem and confidence.

At the heart of it, recreational sports are really about creating a social atmosphere in a friendly, physical environment. If you’re looking to take your recreational sport league team to the next level, you can consider team-building bonuses like group jerseys or t-shirts, special equipment, or even athletic performance trackers to monitor each individual’s progress and identify their metrics. Being able to see your progress via data as you improve at a sport can be an extra motivator to help you stick with it, plus it’s always rewarding to see how well you performed – and you can even set a higher goal for next time.

Conclusion

Although playing recreational sports may have fallen by the wayside as we’ve grown up, it’s just as rewarding – maybe even more so – to play them as adults. Given that they grant everything from our recommended daily exercise, to a chance to socialize, to a renewed sense of goal-setting and competition, rec leagues ought to be seriously considered by all adults looking for a place to blow off some steam and have fun.

Do you play in a recreational league? Tell us about it in the comments.

Posted on

Top Performance Metrics to Measure for Athletes

Athletic Performance

True statisticians have to be insatiably thorough about recording and analyzing data. The more granular the information they have to analyze the wiser they’re able to be when making decisions based on it.  Advanced analytics were slow to break into the sports world. Everyone was happy to glean numbers that told one side of the story and rely on the instincts of scouts.  That is, until people like Billy Beane showed up and mopped up the floor with everyone, using the applied statistical analysis, cybermetrics, to put success in a different light.
These advancements have all been great for front office executives with millions of dollars in cutting edge resources and man-power, but what about aspiring athletes? They’ve been stuck improving traditional numbers like the 40 yard dash, which only make them look good on paper and don’t help them rack up important in-game stats.
Luckily, the success of wearable trackers like Fitbit, paved the way for athletic sensor technology that can do more than count steps. It’s a new day and advanced analytics are accessible to everyone. Only, information about useful sports analytics is still hard to come by. Below are game-play factors athletes can start recording and working on to improve their performance.

Top Performance: Acceleration

If you’re a running back trying to hit a hole, a defensive end bursting off the line, a base runner trying to beat the throw to second, or you’re leading the break after a steal you are using acceleration. Athletes rarely get the opportunity to gradually build up speed or run unimpeded in a straight line, so how quickly they can accelerate really affects their play. Johnny Manziel was an extremely successful, mobile quarterback in college, but he ran a less showy forty time.  If you delve deeper into the tape, though, you’ll see that for the first leg of his forty he kept up with most of the other burners.

Top Performance: Vertical Leap

Catching line-drives, breaking up passes, snagging rebounds all depend on vertical leap.  This isn’t a new measurement, but it’s one that’s rarely tracked. Athletes obliterate their calves on leg days, run in funky, front heavy shoes and do God knows what else to improve their vert, but do they actually ever know what’s working or if their numbers are even going in the right direction?  We see the on-field and on-court results when Odell Beckham reels in a one-handed catch or Russell Westbrook skies up for a dunk, but we don’t see all the training and resources that nurture those skills.

Top Performance: Speed

I’m not talking about overall speed, I’m talking about game-play speed. What’s the thing we hear athletes struggling with when they get to the pro-level? The speed of the game. Whether it’s the pitches being thrown to you, competition trying to beat you to a rebound or beat you to your spot all aspects of sports only get faster. Which is why athletes need to keep increasing factors like bat speed, jump speed, sprint speed and even rotation speed.

Top Performance: Efficiency

Something that makes improving so hard is we often have to change something we’ve excelled at for most of our lives because we’re doing it wrong.  This can include how we swing a bat, throw or run. In order to improve the factors mentioned above, sometimes we need tighten up mechanics to use our bodies more economically. While some of these, like swing efficiency, are easier to track than others, typically peripheral analytics like acceleration will tell you when you’re being inefficient. Improving mechanics early can take you to the next level or put you in a position to succeed when you get there. You don’t want to learn to throw after being a first round draft pick like Tim Tebow do you?

BM_Blog1_CTA

Posted on

Redefining the “Active Mind”: The Effects of Sport on Mental Health

Playing sports and exercising provides improvement in mental, social, and physical health. The physical aspects — lower levels of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and so on — have all been known for some time.  What more and more researchers are realizing is that sports and fitness activities also improve people’s social connections, self-esteem, and mental outlook. By creating an exercise plan and adhering to it, people can see improvements in mood and social relationships. To fully appreciate how exercise can improve mental health, it is important to look at the social and personal aspects, the actual body changes, and the ways you can measure progress.

basketball hoop

The Mental and Physical Effects of Exercise

Exercising is one way to enhance social connections. Playing team sports provides an outlet to meet others and gain a network of supportive individuals. Positive social relationships allow for mutual support and encouragement, a sense of identity, and information to help with overcoming obstacles. In some cases, sports can be used to create social bonds that allow for reintegration into society, such as with veterans returning from combat or people who have survived disasters and epidemics. Strong social connections are also established via friendly competition, shared accomplishments, and more through the use of wearable tech and motion sensors that offer exact metrics and easy sharing abilities.

Physical activity also allows for a greater sense of ability and capability in everyday life. By practicing a skill and gaining instant feedback, or improving on pinpointed aspects of a game, such as running faster or having more stamina, people feel a sense of mastery and accomplishment. This sense of accomplishment as the result of work allows for a greater sense of self-esteem and self-regard. There has also been evidence of exercise creating better overall moods. Research suggests that physical activity allows for a more relaxed state of mind, higher levels of concentration, and better organization of tasks.  Much of the science behind these findings focuses on the hormones and endorphins that are released during physical activity.

Speaking of Endorphins, What Are They and How Do They Work?

Throughout the day, your body releases chemicals and hormones. These chemicals impact how your body operates by finding their specific place in the body to send a message. To illustrate this, think of putting a plug into a socket to turn on a lamp. There is a lot left to learn about these chemicals, what they are and how they work, but researchers have found there are two main body chemicals that play into exercise and mood simultaneously: cortisol and endorphins.

Cortisol is a chemical your body produces during stressful times. This chemical activates the “fight or flight” response in the face of emotional or physical dangers. During this process, the body also dampens the activity of certain systems, such as the reproductive and digestive systems, to concentrate energy on preparing to either fight or escape danger. It is important to remember that our bodies need cortisol — it’s what helps us stay alert throughout the day — but too much cortisol can cause health issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and fatigue.

Endorphins are chemicals that interact with your body’s neurons and impact how the neurons relay messages to the other cells in your body. One of the main functions of endorphins is to block pain receptors. Instead of feeling as much of the pain, your body floods the system with endorphins to ease pain. This happens with several activities in addition to exercise, such as eating spicy food or giving a big presentation. Endorphins released by physical activity also use up excess cortisol, which prevents many of the negative side effects.

Tracking Performance to Improve Mental Health

Tracking physical performance is a great tool to use while embarking on an athletics and fitness course. There are a few ways in which this happens. Fitness, motion, and performance data allows for a more real sense of accomplishment and a measure of how well fitness and exercise are working together. With instant feedback on areas for improvement when working on skill development, our sense of defeat is short-lived, as we have actionable insights to make the appropriate changes.

As stated above, developing a sense of accomplishment is one of the best ways to enhance self-esteem. By measuring performance and progress, you can compare recent results to previous results to see how much you have learned and gained from the experience. Many people are intimidated by fitness programs, especially after being sedentary for a long period of time. Using fitness tracking and motion sensors allows for tangible progress measurement — increasing motivation. Additionally, programs such as the Couch to 5K break up people’s fitness goals into smaller pieces, making the process seem less daunting.

By tracking health data, people can track other factors in their fitness program as well. Food diaries are important for many people, especially as some foods cause certain mood changes that others do not. Additionally, tracking mood allows people to measure how their moods are changing as a result of exercise. By tracking food intake, exercise progress, and mood changes, people are able to achieve a whole picture of how they are learning and growing as a person.

Conclusion

Joining sports teams and forming relationships through fitness and athletics is a great way to address mental health concerns, as is working out alone and tracking your progress. The benefits of sport and exercise touch almost every area of our lives, and our mind is no exception.