Thursday, February 4, 2016

Going the distance Dutch style: ice skating and all cause mortality.

One of the  benefits of working in a human nutrition research lab is that my work computer gives me access to peer reviewed journal articles which delve into many arcane areas related to human health.  After reading a post about the figure skater Anna Galmarini, who died at the relatively young age of 54, I started to wonder if  any research had been done on the beneficial effects of ice skating on longevity, or if not longevity then perhaps all cause mortality.  Intuitively, one would think that exertion resulting from skating would generate some benefit beyond, say, channel surfing on the couch.  And so to the internet and  PubMed I went.  My search was not long.  In fact I found only one scholarly article when using "ice skating" and "longevity" as search terms, but it never the less opened a door to an unknown (at least to me) world of long distance canal skating in the Netherlands and specifically the Dutch Eleven Cities Race/Tour.

The eleven Cities event is not an annual event but is held only on years in which the ice on the 200 kilometers (that's about 120 miles in old money) of canals which link the cities freezes to a thickness (15 centimeters/ 6 inches), a thickness deemed suitable for the event which is limited to 20,000 participants.  Sometimes the race takes place on consecutive years, other times there may be a break of 20 years between races.  The organizers make a preliminary announcement of the possibility of a race within 2 to 3 days and if conditions hold up, the race takes place.  This wiki page explains the whole deal.  One thing to keep in mind is that since this event isn't a predictable date that one can circle on the calendar, perspective participants need to continuously maintain their fitness levels in anticipation of a race.

So, getting back to our scholarly research paper, did the authors see any benefit from all this skating on lifespan or healthspan?  Recall that I introduced this event as a "Race/Tour" so there are two major divisions within the participants: serious races who complete the event in less than 7 hours and recreational skaters who get a completion award if they finish by midnight.  The race itself starts at 5:30 in the morning.  The race has taken place for a number of years and the authors, epidemiologists at Leiden University Hospital, were able to track down skaters who participated in race/tours between 1956 and 1988.  Of that cohort there were 259 men  took part in the speed event, 1000 men who finished within the time limit and finally, 1000 men who did not finish in time to qualify for an award.  Women, although their numbers have increased over the years, were not included because their sample size was too small to be statistically reliable.  The results demonstrated that although there wasn't an increase in longevity, there was a 24% reduction of (premature) all cause mortality among all of the skaters observed, with the strongest reduction found during the first ten years after the race.  And although the benefit decreased over time there was a persistent 17% reduction, compared to the general population, even after more than thirty years.

Closer examination of the stats break out differences between racers and tourists and between tourists who finished within the time limit and those who had to give up.  I'll let those interested do their own reading but as a teaser I'll point out that although there was a slight benefit for finishing, even the tourists who didn't complete within the time limit benefited from participation in the event.  Bottom line: even the recreational skaters benefited.

So, does recreational figure skating several times per week benefit the skater?  My guess is that it probably does, although the benefit is no doubt rather smaller than that seen for long distance skaters who, like long distance runners, continuously maintain their fitness in anticipation of the next event.  For figure skaters like me, one would need a very large cohort and would need to be able to control variables such as age, gender and life style choices (like smoking for example), but yes, a small benefit is probably hiding within those numbers!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Sign of the Times?

Yesterday, while in south Jersey, I went over to the Flyer's Skate Zone on Albany Avenue for the 12:30-2:30 pm public session.  While the local economy is reeling under the weight of a collapsing gambling industry to the point of driving the city to seriously consider filing for bankruptcy, one would never know it from the size of the crowd gathering at the rink.  I had to circle the parking lot twice before finding a space.  A healthy ice tourist presence does help keep the doors open. 

But the  thing that really grabbed my attention was a notice printed out on single sheets of computer printer paper, scotch taped to the rink Plexiglas windows which stated " No Chewing Tobacco out on the rink."  My reaction was  Oh my Gaud---ewwwwwww.  I next wondered is this a hockey thing or an unwashed public thing? 

Is chewing tobacco spital a  common thing or a hockey thing?  

 A quick trip to the internet revealed that this was not an isolated case.  You can read about it (or not) here:

Is this a problem at your rink?  It's news to me--lips that touch chew will never touch mine.  Up til now I've thought that it's bad enough to skate over stick-on skating passes which have liberated themselves from their purchasers.  But then I probably live a sheltered life. 

Well, although the rink was heaving with people, ice time is ice time.  No lick-spital was encountered yesterday by your diarist.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Withdrawal symtoms

Way back on the 12th of January I finally got back to having a coached lesson with Coach A.  That was also the last time I was able to get on the ice.  The following weekend was the three day MLK weekend and I was out of town.  This week has been eaten up with snow storm preparations.  I was looking forward to a spot of practice during the Friday 3:30-5:30pm public when the city posted this:

CHANGE IN FACILITY STATUS: The Bowie Ice Arena will be closing at 2 pm today and will remain closed through the weekend.
For updates you can call 301-262-6200 or visit us online at

What a kick in the head! Yesterday they indicated that they'd trim off the last 30 minutes of that session and close at 5pm so that rink employees could safely get home.  Fair enough.  But that was then and this is now and the storm's predicted to arrive a tad earlier than previously thought.  Pesky storms!  The earliest possibility for me to stagger out onto the ice, assuming they re-open Monday, would be the 9:00am public, which is a lovely session but if the rink is open, so too will my lab.  Sigh.

The good news is that coach A. seemed pleased that I hadn't lost as much ground as I'd thought and so we worked on back edges (never one of my strong suits) and then ran through the three low end dances that I've been working on since, since, I don't know, probably since Moses was a mess cook.  Progress seems so glacial. Since we're talking ice maybe that's appropriate.  I'll think that over on my way to the liquor store.  It appears the only ice I'm destined to see this weekend is that in my glass and whatever plops on the ground outside my house. 

As we're now deep into competition season, coach's schedule is chock-a-block full and I'm living for the rare cancellation by one of her other students.  My next shot at a lesson isn't until the 16th of February.  This is what happens when you're clumsy and do a big face plant--you lose your slot in the coach's calendar.  Double Sigh.

So, that's all I have to report other than the ice halos which I ordered weeks ago for myself and diaristdaughter have finally cleared Canada Post and crossed the border and have been handed off to USPS, and may actually beat the impending snow storm and arrive today. If so, I'll wear mine while going up and down the stairs!  It's the best I can do under the circumstances.  Stay warm.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An Infinitely Useful Blogspot

I recently tripped over Jaya Kanel's skating blog  Ice Artistry.

While the blog's focus is devoted to compulsory figures there's lots of meat to be had for "figure" skaters working in the other skating disciplines .  For example if one pulls down the tab labeled "it figures" and opens the posture "perfect" entry there's lots to digest.  I've just begun to explore this blog so I'll leave you to do the same.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

For the overachievers in the audience

Santa didn't bring you the kitchen sink?  Don't despair.  Instead watch this video and be thankful:

 I keep waiting for the youthful demonstrator to launch herself through those big windows...

Want more?  Go to youtube (of course).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Asleep at the switch.

This is what happens at my home ice the morning after Xmas when I decide to sleep in and bag the 7am Free Style session:  "Three time US National Champion and Olympian Ashley Wagner stopped by the Bowie Ice Arena today! Pictured here with Bowie ISI team member Alexa Cruz and her coach Rebecca Robertson."  Photo credit:  BIA.  Can U believe it?!  Sigh...truer words where never spoken--Ya snooze, ya lose. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Skating 101 with Meryl and Charlie

Skating 101!  Freshman intro to ice dance lifts?  Ha, this seems more like Skating 604--a graduate level seminar, but that's just me talking.  The two kids, Alina Letova and Dakota Delcamp, are not your typical birthday party kid skaters.  These two are obviously battle hardened veterans who probably started skating seriously at, oh, age four or so.  Having said all that, this little video is fun to watch and has some useful coaching tips for lunkheads like me to think about.  A little Xmas Bon-Bon.  Enjoy!