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How Fast Can a Human Possibly Run?

Posted by jase on August 16, 2009

Amazing as Usain Bolt’s new world record 100-meter victory was, his time of 9.58 seconds is nowhere near what biostatisticians such as Peter Weyand of SMU thinks is the natural limit for the human body. Experts studying the steady progression of records over the past 50 years, see the limit of the world record, with a probable error of 0.17 seconds, namely, to lie between 9.26 to 9.60 seconds. Some see 5.0 seconds a possibility.

Because 6′ 5″ Usian Bolt broke the mathematical model that had fit 100-meter record data for almost a century, his incredible performance has reset the bar for how fast researchers believe humans ultimately can run. Will it be done by a 6′ 9″  or 7′ future version of Bolt?


How fast will man eventually run? Will he ever run the 100 meters in five seconds flat?

“Not impossible,” says one of the world’s best known authorities on physiology and biomechanics. Professor Peter Weyand, of Southern Methodist University, known for his expertise in terrestrial locomotion and human and animal performance. Weyand said that humans would soon have the ”ability to modify and greatly enhance muscle fibre strength.” This is would actually reduce the difference between the muscle properties of humans and the world’s fastest animal, the cheetah, to almost zero.

Usain Bolt has now brought up the question — will man get faster and faster? And based on what Weyand says, will he one day outrun the cheetah?

“Probably not,” said Weyand. “The same laws of physics apply to all runners. However, biologically speaking, speed is conferred by an ability of the limbs to hit the ground forcefully in relation to the body’s weight, an attribute conferred largely by the properties of the muscles of the runner. The fast four-legged runners or quadrupeds do seem to be advantaged versus bipeds in terms of the mechanics allowed by their anatomy. These mechanics help quadrupeds to get the most out of the muscles that they have in a way that bipedal runners probably cannot.

Scientists believe man can’t run faster than 30 mph, with the best at about 27mph. A cheetah, on the other hand, reaches speeds triple that. Weyand said he expected speed to continue to improve and faster runners to emerge.

Reza Noubary, a mathematician at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and author of a textbook on statistics and sports, had previously calculated an “ultimate record” of 9.44 seconds for the 100 meter.

Mathematicians don’t use the body’s physiology to assess human physical limits. They were merely working with data that suggested that human speed increases were decelerating and would eventually stop completely. Indeed, in some events, like the long jump, the pace of record-setting has slowed nearly to a stop. That record has only been broken twice since 1968.

Despite the success of Mureika’s model, Weyand, said that mathematical models could never predict how fast humans might eventually run.

“Predicting it is fine for the sake of kicks, but it’s not a scientifically valid approach,” Weyand said. “You have to assume that everything that has happened in the past will continue in the future.”

He suggested that it’s impossible for mathematicians to predict the magnitude of the “freakiness of athletic talent at the extreme margins of humanity. Bolt, it turns out, is a perfect example.”

Weyand, who has conducted research on the body types of the top 45 100-meter sprinters in the last 15 years, said that almost all elite runners conform to the body norms for their race length, except for the most-recent Olympic champion.

“Bolt is an outlier. He’s enormous,” Weyand said. “Typically when you get someone that big, they can’t start.”

That’s because muscle speed in animals is generally tied to their size. For example, rodents, being much smaller than elephants, can move their muscles much faster. The same holds true for human beings. Sprinters are short and have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing them to accelerate quickly, but compromising their ability to run longer distances. Four hundred-meter runners, almost always taller, have the reverse composition of muscle fibers.

Bolt, though, combines the mechanical advantages of taller men’s bodies with the fast-twitch fibers of smaller men.

“We don’t really know what the best form is and maybe Bolt is redefining that and showing us we missed something,” said biomechanicist John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, who studies how animals move.

Hutchinson also agreed with Weyand that the human speed limit will remain impossible to predict with any confidence.

For him, it’s the International Olympic Committee and other regulatory authorities that will determine how fast athletes will be able to run by limiting the amount of advanced biotechnologies sprinters can use.

“The limits will be largely set by the rules of the IOC,” Hutchinson said. “It’s kind of an arms race with the regulators of the sport and the people trying to push the technology to the limits. At some point here there must be a détente where technology can’t push us any further and the rules will restrict it.”

With techniques for gene therapy likely to become available at some point in the not-too-distant future, Weyand said that its use by athletes was “inevitable.”

“You could see really freakish things and we probably will,” he warned.

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Biology, DNA, Healthy Living, Medical, Men, Science | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Self-Help Makes You Feel Worse

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Canadian researchers found in a new study that people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements or mantras about themselves.

They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

A UK psychologist said people based their feelings about themselves on real evidence from their lives.

The suggestion people should “help themselves” to feel better was first mooted by Victorian Samuel Smiles 150 years ago.

His book, called simply “Self Help”, sold a quarter of a million copies and included guidance such as: “Heaven helps those who help themselves”.

Self-help is now a multi-billion pound global industry.

‘Contradictory thoughts’

The researchers, from the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick, asked people with high and low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.”

They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves.

In the low self-esteem group, those who repeated the mantra felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not.

However people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but only slightly.

The psychologists then asked the study participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves.

They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.

Writing in the journal, the researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely,” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem.

Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts.

If people are instructed to focus exclusively on positive thoughts, negative thoughts might be especially discouraging.

Real life

The researchers, led by psychologist Joanne Wood, said: “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

However, they say positive thinking can help when it is part of a broader programme of therapy.

Simon Delsthorpe, a psychologist with Bradford District Care Trust and spokesman for the British Psychological Society, said self-esteem was based on a range of real life factors, and that counselling to build confidence – rather than telling yourself things are better than they are – was the solution.

“These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance.

“If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem.

“But if your experience is the reverse of that it would be much easier to say ‘I’m OK’ and believe that.”

Posted in Depression, Healthy Living, Medical, Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Lead a Focused Life

Posted by jase on June 30, 2009

With so many things now demanding our attention — emails, Web sites, BlackBerry alerts, incoming text messages, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, stock updates, and old- fashioned meetings and phone calls — many of us…

What was I saying? Right: Many of us fret about losing our train of thought. “Life,” says Winifred Gallagher, “is the sum of what you focus on.” In “Rapt,” she concentrates on what science has to tell us about the mind’s capacities for paying attention.

Some people, she explains, are badly prone to distraction and need to be treated for attention deficit disorder. Others, like increasing numbers of us multitaskers, are merely plagued by bad habits and technology overload, darting from one mental activity to the next. So what can we do to recover the sustained focus that fosters creativity and quality?

Ms. Gallagher has some answers, but first she helps us to understand the problem better. Mental attention, she notes, is selective. Like a flashlight beam, we aim our consciousness on but a thin slice of what surrounds us. At a party, for instance, we hear only one voice among many until another voice speaks our name and our attention suddenly shifts.

Some clever experiments show just how inattentive we are to most of what we experience. Daniel Simons, at the University of Illinois, working with Christopher Chabris, asked viewers to watch people tossing a basketball around, some wearing a black shirt, others a white, and to count the number black-shirt tosses. Amazingly, half of the viewers, focusing on their toss counting, failed to notice that someone had sauntered through the middle of the scene wearing a gorilla suit.

Another experiment, measuring “change blindness,” asked each of its participants to give directions to a construction worker. Half failed to notice that, after an obstruction passed between them, blocking the view, another worker wearing different clothes had taken the first construction worker’s place. The costs of shifting attention can entail coping delays, too, which helps explain the association between cellphone use and accidents in both real-life driving and laboratory traffic simulations.

What to do? To expand our capacity for focused attention, Ms. Gallagher suggests choosing activities “that push you so close to the edge of your competence that they demand your absolute focus.” She cites Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, at Claremont Graduate University, who argues that between the anxiety of being overwhelmed (and stressed) and the apathy of being underwhelmed (and bored) lies a zone of engagement in which people experience “flow.” He arrived at the flow concept after studying artists who spent hour after hour painting or sculpting, working as if nothing else mattered.

Such intense focus, Ms. Gallagher says, is central to “peak” or “optimal” experience. She also touts meditation: It calms the body, she says, soothes the spirit and shifts focus away from the past or future so that we can “pay rapt attention to the present and experience true reality.” She quotes a meditation proponent who talks about achieving “a state of pure attention that occurs before thinking.”

If such ideas sound a bit mystical, Ms. Gallagher offers simpler ones. Pause to savor life’s delicious moments. Cultivate willpower. (Experiments confirm that self-control is like a muscle: It gets stronger with each effort.) And, most obviously, separate yourself from distractions. “Aware of our limited focusing capacity,” Ms. Gallagher says, “I take pains to ensure that electronic media and machines aren’t in charge of mine.”

Good advice. To preserve my own mind from electronic takeover, I spend an hour alone each afternoon, without a computer or phone, in a local coffee shop, and I ask my assistant to forward messages from my public email address only near the end of each day. I’ve noticed that I prefer long plane rides to shorter ones, thanks to the extra time for uninterrupted thinking or reading. A University of Michigan research team led by Marc Berman recently observed that students who took an hour-long walk in the serenity of the Ann Arbor Arboretum, rather than through downtown Ann Arbor, showed an increased capacity for attention.

It is good to increase your capacity for attention, as Ms. Gallagher argues, but is it true that life is the sum of what you focus on? Actually, there is much more to our mental life. Researchers are finding more and more evidence that our minds also operate beneath our conscious awareness. As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has said: “Consciousness is a small part of what the brain does.” Experiments reveal that we all have both “explicit” (conscious) and “implicit” (unconscious) memories, attitudes and perceptions — each mediated by distinct brain areas. To take but one example: Patients whose brain damage has destroyed their sight may still display implicit “blindsight,” by slipping a card into a mail slot that they cannot consciously see.

Thinking without conscious awareness can be primed, too. In a recently published experiment, Yale psychologist John Bargh, working with Lawrence Williams, found that people holding a warm rather than iced coffee mug are more likely to perceive another person as “warm,” or friendly. In an earlier study, he and his colleagues asked people to complete a sentence containing words such as old, wise and retired. Soon after, the researchers observed these people walking more slowly to the elevator than others who had not been primed with aging-related words.

“Rapt” is a fascinating discussion of how consciousness works, and Ms. Gallagher offers much helpful advice on how to lead a “focused life.” We should remember, though, that there is a realm where the mind functions not only beyond the reach of chirruping cellphones, BlackBerrys and laptops but also beneath our own awareness.

Posted in Daily Good, Healthy Living, Inspiring Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »