The Problem With Research (and the solution)

posted in: Miscellaneous, Uncategorized | 3
researcher
We now know that drinking more water leads to better hydration levels in mice.

RESEARCH…  apparently they didn’t find what they were searching for the first time. Thus, the need to RE-SEARCH for it…

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of scientific research proving what so-and-so group of people have always known to be true. My specialization is strength training and fitness, and let me tell you… the research is significantly behind the times in this area. Any good strength and conditioning coach will tell you that the research just can’t keep up with what the in-the-trenches professionals are discovering every day. The process of researching is just too slow in the strength and conditioning community, and I’m willing to bet it’s the same for many different areas of study.

Just the other day, I read this headline:

Cutting-edge scientific research now proves what the yogis have always known: deep relaxation can have a profound effect on a wide range of medical conditions. (article here)

No kidding. You mean to tell me that it’s a good idea to take a break from our hectic lifestyles, to actually slow down for a moment, to reflect, to get quiet, to meditate, to focus strongly on our physical nature, to seriously try and relax?

Of course it’s good for us! Anyone who has ever done yoga will tell you that. Anyone who has ever taken a moment to do any of the above can tell you that, too. You don’t have to be a researcher, lifelong yogi, guru, expert, professional, or doctor to know that relaxation has strong and powerful health benefits.

Similarly, you don’t need a degree in physical education to know that vigorous physical activity has positive effects on health like preventing heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and most cancers just to name a few – not to mention improving overall quality of life.

You don’t even need to be a dietitian or nutritionist to know how that eating certain foods will make you healthier than others.

Most of this stuff is common sense – it’s intuitive. Or is it?

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of the problem we’re facing has come to me while reading a book called Play by Dr. Stuart Brown. This book was written with the intention of showing people that playing is important for a lot of reasons, especially regarding the development of children, physical health included. The overall goal of the book is to get people to play more often. You might be thinking, “what a simple subject, of course play is good for us!” And you’re right, it is a simple subject, but one that needs to be investigated nonetheless because our lifestyles have “put play in a box.”

You see, we have progressed at an incredibly rapid rate as a civilization in the past 100 years or so. Unfortunately, not all progress is forward. Some progress is actually regression. Such is the case with our knowledge of physical living – play included. As a society, we have actually forgotten how to play, how to eat, and how to move.

These things, which used to be fundamental aspects of our lives, are no longer so. Kids don’t play outside, they play video games inside. We don’t eat food anymore, we eat products that appear to be food. We don’t move anymore, we workout.

Times have changed so rapidly that we’re having to re-learn how to get back to the basics. Thus, the apparent need for more research – because humans can’t possibly figure things out by themselves. They need to be qualified, right!?

It’s almost as if we need to filter all of our current lifestyle activities through the lens of “modern research.” As a society, we feel the need to double-check to make sure that exercise is good for us, that real foods are healthier than genetically modified ones, that play is an essential aspect of learning for children. It’s like we don’t trust our ancestors. The average lifestyle of 100 years ago was primitive, after all. There’s no possible way that they knew more about living a healthy life than we do today, they simply didn’t have enough research. Please note my sarcasm.

I think Frank Forencich (interview with Frank here) offers an excellent solution to our modern predicament in his book Exuberant Animal (book review here). This is excerpted from page 217:

Americans have displayed a spectacular level of incompetence when it comes to dealing with lifestyle disease and the decline of human physicality. Our methods and ideas simply aren’t working. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the solution isn’t going to come out of a research facility or a pharmaceutical laboratory. And it certianly isn’t going to come out of a PE textbook. We need to look elsewhere.

When modern-day decision makers ponder the degeneration of the human body, they reflexively reach for modern-day solutions. They seek out data, analysis, accounting, measurement and assessment. At hundreds of conferences every year, experts present their data on the grim condition of the human body and conclude with the words “We need more research in this area.”

I beg to differ. We don’t need more research. We already know the fundamental fact. That is, people become healthy when they engage in vigorous physical activity on most days of the week. We don’t need more knowledge or information on this score; what we need is primal participation. If the afflictions of the human body stem from modernity, it hardly makes sense to look to modernity for a solution. From the body’s point of view, modernity is the problem.

So, how do you tell the truth apart from the trends, noise, and flat-out B.S.?

1) Does it make sense? You have an intuition (aka B.S. detector), use it well. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For instance, spraying food with poisonous toxins seems like a bad idea to me, which is one of the reasons that I eat organic foods as much as I can. If you want to know why eating organic foods is a no-brainer, have a look at this humorous video by Kevin and Annemarie Gianni of the Renegade Health Show: (http://renegadehealth.com/blog/why-eat-organic-foods/)

2) Is it based on a time-proven principle or practice? Ask how long the issue or practice has been used. If something has been around for a long time, then it stands a better chance of actually being useful and safe. On the other hand, if something just came out, is based on the “latest research,” then that should lift some red flags in your mind.

Take yoga, for instance. It’s been around for millenia. That gives me enough reason to believe that there is some value to it. Sure, not ALL yoga may be beneficial, but there must be at least a way to find some benefit from it. It has passed the test of time. Of course, that doesn’t mean what your local health club is offering is really true yoga, but that’s for another post.

3) Look at the people behind it. Are they sincere? Transparent? Qualified? Do they have a good reputation, or have they faced legal problems? What is their primary motivation? If it’s genuinely helping people, then they’re a winner. If they care more about money, which is often the case in the fitness industry, then they’re not helping anybody.

It’s also important to look at the primary motivation of researchers themselves. People tend to believe that what the researchers says is absolute truth, that it’s simply a confirmation or revelation of what is true. That’s not always the case. Perhaps we weren’t told that some research is handed in last minute by partying college students, or even by less-than-enthusiastic employees. It also isn’t unheard of for researchers to be paid to discover a SPECIFIC RESULT. It goes like this… The men in expensive suits say to the men in white coats, “I’ll pay your firm $75,000 if you can host a study that concludes…” – whatever, white men can’t jump.

Yes, it’s true, sometimes research is payed for a specific result – and there’s plenty of research to back that up! :)

Of these three tips, pay the most attention to number one. You do know what is best for you. Everyone knows when they are eating in a way that is making them gain excess fat or living in a way that is unhealthy. Obesity, and other preventable diseases, don’t happen by surprise. Most people know within 30 minutes that what they just ate wasn’t a good idea – and everyone can tell how they feel after a few weeks of poor dietary habits. Our intuition is there for a reason – survival, among other things.

Wrap-Up

Some of the best advice I can give when it comes to health and fitness is to only act on what you absolutely know to be true. Ancient disciplines can be relied upon, they’ve stood the test of time. We shouldn’t seek to replace the fundamentals of physical living with modern, novel innovation. Instead, use what technology and research offers us to augment and amplify the fundamental principles that we adhere to. Blending ancient discipline with modern innovation and research is the best use of your resources.

That balance must be kept. If you stray too far on the traditional ancient side, then you’ll get stuck in convention and won’t draw on the strengths of modern research. If you stray too far on the side of novelty-driven trends, then you’ll lose the basic fundamentals that keep us strong, healthy, happy, and free.

Knowing the right thing to do isn’t enough though. You must ACT on what you know to be true. Frank’s advice is spot-on, what we need is primal participation in those things which we know to be true about physical living. Sometimes, you can’t wait for the research to confirm your actions, you just gotta suck it up and go go go!

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

3 Responses

  1. Great post John! Again, my question is – how do we get people to understand this?! Communicating it is one thing. Communicating it and getting people to “buy in” is something else entirely!

    Josh

  2. Josh,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    You clearly understand the message I’m trying to get across to my readers. I’d bet you even buy into it yourself. I’m glad, because I know a lot of people who probably would not “get it” or they would consider me a lunatic for thinking modern research has so many flaws. This post was written just for people like you, who are willing to listen to unconventional thinking and especially those who are already searching for alternatives to the norm. You’ve reached a point in your own personal development where you’re ready to think outside the box, which is why this topic resonates so well with you.

    You simply can’t force this idea on someone who isn’t ready for it.

    For instance, I wouldn’t present this to the employees of a research facility for obvious reasons. However, I might present it to an entrepreneurs conference, because that type of person is open to change. Not everyone is ready for the education or responsibility of truly taking care of themselves, and this post is catered to those who are.

    I’ve always believed that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

  3. dubbahdee

    So, from a practical standpoint, how do you determine that something is true? Is it as simple as finding out who pays for it? I’m not sure that is the best standard.
    I know that when I read about studies that are written up in the general press, or presented in TV news, I am always skeptical. Not because of who paid for the study, but because they almost NEVER explain the structure, variables and limitations of the study or experiments. For instance, a study was recently published claiming that organic food is no healthier than food that is not produced by organic methods. With a little closer look, we see that what the study really claimed is that the NUTRITION available in organic food seem to be almost the same as the nutrition (amount and bio-availability of vitamins, minerals, macro-nutrients, etc) as non-organic. The study had nothing whatsoever to say about the effect of pesticides on your health, or about the superior flavor of organically grown produce and meat. The study was limited in scope (as all good studies must be to control for variables) but it was presented with a broad brush. It wasn’t the problem with the study. It was a problem with the a way it was interpreted and presented by the news writers.
    I would say this may also be true of publications with special interest segments, like the muscle magazines. They have a point of view and will tend to interpret studies along the lines of their preconceived notions. A bigger problem than the money issue then is the “common wisdom” or ingrained assumptions. This colors not just the media, but also the scientists who are designing and conducting the studies. Witness the common horror that people show when you run barefoot. “OMG! Are you tetanus shots up to date?”
    So…the question is how do you sort through the dreck to understand scientific studies? I haven’t come up with an overarching principle. Quantifiable studies are very valuable for certain things, but we must learn how to read them.
    Well…this comment sure ended up longer than I thought it would.

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