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Catching Up With 6 Exercise Gurus

Last month, the Broadway community hosted its 23rd Annual Easter Bonnet Competition to raise funds for AIDS research. One of the celebrity performers was 71-year-old Jane Fonda clad in 1980s-era workout togs. Even though Ms. Jane was not all she appeared to be during her home video heyday, she inspired us to salute some other famous exercise gurus in her honor.

1. Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda had a checkered career once she entered the public eye. She worked as a fashion model before landing her first film role. She gained the reputation as a "sex symbol" after co-starring in the sci-fi spoof Barbarella, and then she used her celebrity to support North Vietnam during that controversial war. Scrambling to get her career back in gear after a barrage of negative press, she worked in a series of "relevant" films, including The China Syndrome. Fonda fractured her foot during the filming, which not only delayed the production, but also curtailed the regular ballet routines she used to keep fit. She discovered the world of aerobic exercise, and soon became its leading proponent.

Her initial Jane Fonda's Workout video sold an unprecedented 17 million copies (mind you, this was at a time when VCRs still retailed for close to $1,000 and were considered a luxury item). Fonda would confess, years after a dozen different versions of her workout had been marketed, that her enviable figure was not strictly due to "feeling the burn" "“ she had suffered from bulimia during that time and had also undergone cosmetic surgery.

2. Richard Simmons

richard-simmons.jpgMilton Teagle "Richard" Simmons was always chunky as a child; when he graduated from high school he weighed 268 lbs. Nevertheless, he'd achieved a small bit of TV success, mostly as the "before" model in yogurt commercials and as a model for "chubby" jeans. When he was warned by a doctor about the medical complications of being overweight he went on an extreme starvation diet, shedding 112 lbs. in three months. As a result, he lost a lot of hair (and later underwent transplants) and his skin sagged (nip and tuck time). But he also decided that there were probably thousands of people just like him who needed to exercise regularly, but were too intimated by the Danskin-clad hardbodies who frequented most commercial gyms. In 1975 he opened Ruffage and the Anatomy Asylum in Beverly Hills, a combination health food restaurant/exercise studio. And while today the fey, cloying Richard Simmons is easy pickings for talk show hosts and stand-up comics, there is no denying that he has encouraged hundreds of thousands of non-Jane Fonda types to get up off of the sofa for the first time and sweat along with him.

3. Debbie Drake

Who was the first woman to don a leotard and host an exercise show on television? Even though it was way back in 1961, the concept wasn't very different than it is today: attractive woman wears a form-fitting outfit and stretches sinuously on camera. Debbie Drake was a blonde, leggy Texan whose 15-minute program, Passport to Beauty, aired at 7:30AM in most markets, and she was popular enough to get housewives to do calisthenics with her at that hour. Her trademark was a long-sleeved leotard with a small white collar, which gave it a touch of modesty.

Drake was a shrewd businesswoman who used a three-pronged attack to capture the exercise market: in addition to her TV show, she published books and released record albums. Her strategy to encourage women to buy her products: "How to keep your husband by way of perfecting your figure." Speaking of figures, Debbie's measured 38 _-22-36, which she emphasized by having her bosom cinched up to her neck during her workout routine.

4. Jack LaLanne

Younger TV viewers may only know him as an infomercial huckster, but Jack LaLanne first gained fame via his TV exercise show that ran for 34 years. LaLanne opened his first gym in 1936, where he encouraged weight training for both men and women and also developed the first leg extension machine. He practiced what he preached; throughout his life he emphasized the importance of eating natural foods ("if man made it, don't eat it") as well as both aerobic and weight-bearing exercises. Some of his exercises may look goofy today (such as this face routine in the videos below), but on the other hand, today's 94-year-old Jack has a face that looks like 30-year-old Jack.

5. Denise Austin

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Denise (Katnich) Austin earned a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Arizona, where she graduated from in 1979 with a degree in exercise physiology. After graduation she started teaching aerobics classes in the L.A. area and was eventually hired to co-host Jack LaLanne's TV show. In 1982 she was offered her own TV fitness show, and her career took off from there. It certainly didn't hurt that she'd married sports attorney Jeff Austin, who also happened to be the brother of tennis pro Tracy Austin. Once fame came knocking at her door, she had an expert in the family ready to advise and guide her.

6. Cynthia Kereluk

Once a part of Lifetime TV's regular morning line-up, Cynthia Kereluk's soft voice was a soothing counterpoint to Denise Austin's raspy growl. Kereluk had a college degree in education (she taught kindergarten before pursuing a career in fitness), and was Miss Canada in 1984. From 1985 until 2000, she hosted the Everyday Workout which was seen in TV markets around the world. Cynthia recently married her long-time love Paul Rodgers, formerly the frontman of Free and Bad Company.

I'm not so naïve to think that all viewers that tune in to exercise shows are doing so strictly for the cardio benefits. After my 70-something father suffered a heart attack, he was instructed by his doctor to engage in daily aerobic activity. To Dad that meant tuning in to a variety of exercise programs and critiquing them from his La-Z-Boy. ("This show is nothing but old broads, no one wants to see that"¦") So "˜fess up "“ which exercise shows do you recall, either because you actually worked out to them, or because you liked the way their leotards rode up"¦?

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Health
The First Shot to Stop Chronic Migraines Just Secured FDA Approval
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Migraine sufferers unhappy with current treatments will soon have a new option to consider. Aimovig, a monthly shot, just received approval from the Food and Drug Administration and is now eligible for sale, CBS News reports. The shot is the first FDA-approved drug of its kind designed to stop migraines before they start and prevent them over the long term.

As Mental Floss reported back in February before the drug was cleared, the new therapy is designed to tackle a key component of migraine pain. Past studies have shown that levels of a protein called calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) spike in chronic sufferers when they're experiencing the splitting headaches. In clinical trials, patients injected with the CGRP-blocking medicine in Aimovig saw their monthly migraine episodes cut in half (from eight a month to just four). Some subjects reported no migraines at all in the month after receiving the shot.

Researchers have only recently begun to untangle the mysteries of chronic migraine treatment. Until this point, some of the best options patients had were medications that weren't even developed to treat the condition, like antidepressants, epilepsy drugs, and Botox. In addition to yielding spotty results, many of these treatments also come with severe side effects. The most serious side effects observed in the Aimovig studies were colds and respiratory infections.

Monthly Aimovig shots will cost $6900 a year without insurance. Now that the drug has been approved, a flood of competitors will likely follow: This year alone, three similar shots are expected to receive FDA clearance.

[h/t CBS News]

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Medicine
The 98.6℉ Myth: Why Everything You Think You Know About Body Temperature Is a Lie
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When you were kid, you probably knew that to score a magical sick day home from school, you needed to have a fever. When the thermometer came out of your mouth, it had to read higher than 98.6℉—the long-accepted "normal" human body temperature. (If you wanted to really seal the deal, you may have hoped to hit 100℉.) Since then, you may have used a temperature above 98.6℉ as a metric to work from home (or call out sick entirely).

But here's the thing: The average body temperature isn't actually 98.6℉—a fact that we've known for more than 25 years. The myth originated in the 19th century with a single doctor, and despite evidence to the contrary, it's persisted ever since.

THE GIANT—AND FAULTY—ARMPIT THERMOMETER

In 1851, Carl Wunderlich, the director of the hospital at Leipzig University, began going from room to room with a comically large thermometer in tow. He wanted to understand how body temperature is affected by different diseases, so in each room, he would hold the foot-long device in patients' armpits for a full 20 minutes, waiting for a temperature to register. Once it did, he'd note the temperature on the patient's chart (Wunderlich is thought to be the first physician to do so). He and his staff did this for years, repeatedly taking the temperatures of some 25,000 patients and logging them on their charts, until he had millions of readings. In 1868, he finally published this data in Das Verhalten der Eigenwarme in Krankheiten (On the Temperature in Diseases: A Manual of Medical Thermometry). He concluded that the average human body temperature was 98.6℉, underscoring the idea that fever is a symptom of illness, not a cause.

No one questioned Wunderlich's methods, or his average, for about 140 years. Then, in the early 1990s, internist Philip Mackowiak—a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, a medical historian, and, apparently, a clinical thermometer junkie—saw one of the physician's instruments at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. He told the Freakonomics podcast that he'd always had doubts about the 98.6℉ standard. "I am by nature a skeptic," he said. "And it occurred to me very early in my career that this idea that 98.6 was normal, and then if you didn't have a temperature of 98.6, you were somehow abnormal, just didn't sit right."

Getting his hands on Wunderlich's thermometer—which the museum let him borrow—only deepened his doubts. The huge thermometer was unwieldy and non-registering, meaning, Mackowiak explained, "that it has to be read while it's in place." Not only that, but Wunderlich had used the device to measure temperatures in the armpit, which is less reliable than temperatures taken in the mouth or rectum. The instrument itself also wasn't terribly precise: It measured up to 2 degrees Centigrade higher than both ancient and modern instruments.

In 1992, Mackowiak decided to test Wunderlich's average. Using normal-sized oral thermometers and a group of volunteers, he determined that the average human body temperature actually hovers around 98.2℉. Mackowiak found that body temperature tends to vary over the course of the day, with its lowest point around 6 a.m. and its highest in the early evening. Body temperature can also fluctuate monthly (with the menstrual cycle) and over a lifetime (declining decade by decade with age), and may even be differentially linked to sex and race assignments. He concluded that normal body temperature is so unique to each person that it's almost like a fingerprint and, given that wide variation, not actually a very reliable indicator of illness.

As a result of his study, Mackowiak proposed raising the threshold for fever to 98.9℉ for temperatures taken in the morning (and 99.9℉ at other times). While it's a relatively minor change in terms of actual degrees, this fever threshold is actually lower than the CDC's, which is a temperature of 100.4℉ or higher.

There are potential real-life consequences in this gap, for everyone from students (who'd have to attend school with what would be considered a low-grade fever by Wunderlich's 98.6℉ standard) to employers and daycares (who use temperature to set attendance policies). What's more, anyone who is actually sick but ignores a low-grade fever—one that meets Mackowiak's threshold but still falls under the CDC's—could pose a risk to people with compromised immune systems trying to avoid unnecessary exposure to illness in public places.

THE BALANCING POINT

There's a reason the average trends near 98℉ instead of 92℉ or 106℉. As endotherms, mammals expend a great deal of energy maintaining body temperature when compared with cold-blooded creatures. To find and conserve a just-right body temperature, central nervous system sensors gather data (too warm? too cold? just right, Goldilocks?) and send that information to the pebble-sized hypothalamus near the base of the brain. There, the data is converted into action: releasing sweat and widening the blood vessels if too warm; raising metabolism, constricting the blood vessels, and inducing shivering if too cold.

According to a study by Aviv Bergman and Arturo Casadevall in the journal mBio, the precise balancing point for ideal body temperature is the sweet spot where the metabolic cost for all this thermoregulation balances with the evolutionary advantage of warding off fungal disease. (While warm-blooded animals are prone to bacterial or viral infections, they rarely experience fungal infections because most fungi can't withstand temperatures above 86℉. Cold-blooded animals, on the other hand, are prone to all three.) For Bergman and Casadevall, this benefit even explains what tipped Darwin's scales in favor of mammals, allowing them to edge out other vertebrates for dominance after the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction wiped out the dinosaurs.

Of course, rules call for exceptions, and the one place where human body temperature demonstrates sustained elevation is outer space. Astronauts on prolonged missions clock significantly higher average body temperatures than they do when terrestrial—even up to 104℉. This so-called "space fever" is probably a product of some combination of radiation exposure, psychological stress, and immune response to weightlessness. Researchers believe this phenomenon could yield crucial information about thermoregulation—and may even offer insight into how humans might adapt to climate change.

WHY THE MYTH PERSISTS

It's been 26 years since Mackowiak's study, yet the newer data has not taken hold among medical professionals or the public. What gives?

Mackowiak tells Mental Floss that he finds it a bit mystifying that the myth persists, especially since many people, when pressed, know that the so-called "average" temperature varies. Part of the problem may be psychological: We cling to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary—a phenomenon called belief perseverance [PDF]. It's a significant force upholding a surprising number of medical myths. The idea humans should drink eight glasses of water a day? Not science. Sugar causes hyperactive behavior? Nope. Reading in dim light harms eyesight? Not really.

Unlearning persistent myths—especially ones loaded with the weight of medical authority—is difficult. "Deep down, under it all," Mackowiak says, "people want simple answers for things."

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