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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Workout Might Ruin You

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Getty Images / iStock

There is nothing quite like being humbled by the fitness regimen of an octogenarian, which is why you might want to proceed with caution. POLITICO reporter Ben Schreckinger recently got a glimpse into the workout of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s entirely possible you’ll need to work your way up to it.

Political pundits have been focused on the health of the 83-year-old Ginsburg (who has a birthday coming up on March 15) due to her liberal leanings and the desire to see her remain on the bench for the duration of a Republican presidency. Part of what keeps her sharp is a twice-weekly exercise protocol developed by her personal trainer, a Sergeant First Class in the Army Reserves named Bryant Johnson.

While the hour-long workout can vary at times, Johnson explained that it more or less looks like this: After a five-minute warm-up on an elliptical bike, Ginsburg does some light stretching (toe touches, seated ankle-grabbing with legs extended) followed by a strength routine. Johnson uses weights that Ginsburg can heft for 10 to 13 reps, including a 70-pound bench press, chest flies, lat pulldowns, and leg presses, all using a machine. Ginsburg then performs one-legged squats by extending one leg and rising from a seated position 10 times per leg.

The latter effort seemed to give Schreckinger pause. "This was not easy," he wrote. The squats are followed by two sets of 10 pushups and 30-second planks, which is a bit like holding a pushup posture on your forearms to work your core.

Next, Ginsburg uses an exercise ball to perform dynamic dumbbell presses and curls before moving to an 18-inch platform that promotes knee stability. That’s followed by more leg exercises and squats on a Bosu ball. Finally, Ginsburg catches a medicine ball from a seated position, stands, and tosses it back to Johnson. The effort is meant to replicate getting up from a toilet unassisted, an important skill for any age.

Despite being a good half-century younger than Ginsburg, Schreckinger said the workout left him "sore, disoriented, and cranky." If you haven't hit the gym in awhile, it might be prudent to consult with a doctor before attempting the Ginsburg protocol.  

[h/t POLITICO]

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Essential Science
What Is a Calorie?
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The word calorie carries a lot of weight. We know we're supposed to avoid too many of them, but things get more complicated after that. What, exactly, are calories, and how do I burn them?

THE SCIENCE OF THE CALORIE

A calorie is a unit of heat energy that fuels your body, making it possible to move, breathe, think, sleep—and even digest food to make more energy.

While there is some disagreement about who first coined the term calorie, we know the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier used it in experiments he conducted during the winter of 1782–1783. He used a device called a calorimeter to measure how much ice melted in a metal container due to the heat emitted by guinea pigs housed inside it. Over time, that measurement was refined by other scientists to mean the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by 1°C—what's known as a kilocalorie.

The food calorie and a kilocalorie (kcal) are technically the same thing, but we use the term calorie rather than kilocalorie because of an American chemist named Wilbur Olin Atwater. In the late 1880s, Atwater traveled to Germany to study at physiologist Carl Voit's laboratory, where Voit was researching the nutritional value of food and animal feed. Inspired by that research, Atwater took measurements of different foods with a bomb calorimeter—a device that essentially measures the heat in food when burned—by having study participants eat, and then measuring and subtracting [PDF] the amount of heat leaving their bodies through respiration and waste. He used a respiration calorimeter to measure their breath and a bomb calorimeter to burn their poop, and from that calculated just how many calories were left in their bodies to be used. When writing about his research, Atwater used the word calorie (kcal wouldn't be used in America until 1894, when it was published in a physiology textbook).

Based on his experiments, Atwater created a system for calculating the calories that human bodies can get from our food. There are three types of food nutrients that deliver caloric energy—fats, proteins, and carbohydrates—and Atwater arrived at a caloric measurement of each: A fat gram has nine calories, while a gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrates each have four. That system was modified [PDF] by USDA scientists in 1973, but it's otherwise still the basis for how calories are calculated today.

WHAT HAPPENS TO A CALORIE IN YOUR BODY

When you eat, enzymes in the mouth, stomach, and intestine break down nutrients by turning fats into fatty acids, sugars into simple sugars, and proteins into amino acids. Then, using oxygen cells throughout your body, these components are broken down into energy—a process known as metabolism.

Most of the calories we burn each and every day are used just to keep our body functioning, with about half going toward powering our major organs—the brain, liver, kidneys, and heart. We use the rest for physical activity and the process of converting food to energy. Anything not used by the body is then stored, first in the liver and eventually as fat cells.

Some foods, like honey (carbohydrates), are easily digestible, whereas nuts (a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein) can't actually be fully digested at all. There are also digestibility differences within the same type of food. For example, in plants, older leaves tend to be sturdier (and therefore harder to digest) and less caloric than younger ones. Most significantly, especially in terms of human evolution, whenever we cook or process food, the body can get more calories as compared to that same food eaten raw. All of this has an impact on the amount of calories we can actually use.

There's no food you can eat to speed up the rate at which you burn calories (changes from foods like spicy peppers are fleeting), but factors like age and rapid, drastic weight loss can slow it down.

Building more muscle can increase your metabolic rate (although how much is debatable), since muscle requires more energy to function than fat does. And while cardiovascular exercise might not permanently boost your metabolism, it does burn calories; just how much depends on your weight and how vigorously you exercise.

Examples of higher calorie burning exercises include cycling and running, but almost every activity burns something, so you could potentially burn more calories throughout the day by consistently doing low-energy activities like gardening or pacing during a conference call than you would during 30 minutes of fast cycling.

CALORIES: A SCIENCE IN FLUX

We still use the Atwater system for calculating food calories, but it's far from perfect. For one thing, a USDA study found that people absorbed fewer calories from nuts than had been estimated under Atwater's system—a serving of almonds, for example, provided not 170 calories, but 129. There's some evidence that people tend to digest food at all sorts of different rates too, depending on the individual makeup of our gut bacteria, meaning that the absorption of calories may differ from person to person.

Scientists now believe the numbers on food labels are more of an estimate than a precise measurement. While companies are required to provide caloric information on food labels, the FDA doesn't specify exactly how those calories should be calculated. Some companies, like McDonald's, send their food to a lab for measurement, while others estimate the total by adding up the calorie count for each food component from the USDA's massive food composition database. As scientists continue to refine how we calculate calories, we'll come to have a better idea of the energy we can actually get from these different foods.

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technology
This California Gym Runs on Energy Generated by Your Workout
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At Sacramento Eco Fitness in California, the energy clients expend is put to good use. As Inhabitat reports, the gym is outfitted with special ECO-POWR equipment from SportsArt that collects kinetic energy from users' workouts and feeds it into a battery used to power a portion of the gym's operations.

The fitness center features much of the same equipment you'd find in any gym, but its stationary bikes are more sophisticated than most. SportsArt's ECO-POWR cycles have built-in micro inverters—the same technology that solar panels and wind turbines use to convert natural energy into electricity—that harvest the watts generated when you pedal. The gym also recently debuted an ECO-POWR treadmill that can harvest energy generated during a run.

A single bike can generate as much as 200 watts per hour, and one spin class produces enough energy to power two fridges for 24 hours. The gym's battery can also be used to power lights and charge cellphones and laptops. The results are apparent in the gym's energy bill—after debuting the new equipment, its electricity costs dropped from $680 to $30 a month.

Eco Fitness isn't the only business tweaking the conventional gym model. The app POPiN, which rolled out in several health clubs in New York City in 2017, lets guests pay for gym time by the minute. People in New York can also check out FaceGym, the aptly named gym for working out your face.

[h/t Inhabitat]

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