Exercise is Medicine: highlights from ACSM 2018 (and my favorite eats in Minneapolis!)

This past week, I traveled to Minneapolis for the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting. This was my second year attending ACSM, a five-day conference that brings in over 6,000 attendees from around the world to share their research in kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, and sports medicine. It’s a great opportunity to meet other researchers and learn about the newest findings, often months before they are ever published.

In this brief article, I’ll share my top five highlights from ACSM 2018, and some of my favorite restaurants and places to visit in the twin cities.

1) Muscle is an endocrine organ

Coming from a background in nutritional sciences, I always find ACSM a refreshing way to brush up on some exercise physiology. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to listen to a fascinating talk on muscle as an endocrine organ – in other words, your muscle is an organ that produces hormones, much like your thyroid, pituitary gland, and ovaries!

In fact, exercising muscle is now known to produce 700 different signaling molecules, called myokines. These myokines are already known to communicate with the liver, pancreas, bone, heart, fat tissue, and the immune system, so I wouldn’t be surprised if future research finds direct communication to the gut and skin as well!

2) Strength training is under-recognized for chronic disease treatment

If you open any old exercise science textbook, you’ll probably learn that you need to engage in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity if you want to glean the benefits of exercise for disease prevention. If resistance training is mentioned at all, it’s likely an afterthought, or solely promoted for the maintenance of muscle mass.

But thanks to emerging research, a new paradigm is gaining ground: practiced regularly, resistance training can also protect against chronic diseases. Dr. Stuart Phillips spoke to the benefits of strength training for blood glucose regulation, body weight control, aging, cancer, and mental health. According to this new paradigm, incorporating both aerobic and resistance training into your exercise regimen is key for optimal disease prevention.

3) Carbs and probiotics may blunt the gut permeability caused by exercise

We know that prolonged, intense exercise can reduce blood flow to the gut and result in gut damage. Many researchers are interested in nutritional strategies to mitigate this damage to the small intestine during exercise. I highlighted several of these strategies in my article on exercise and gut barrier function. At ACSM, I was fortunate to meet members of two different research groups with newly collected data in this area of interest.

Kristin Jonvik of the Netherlands and her colleagues have now shown that 40 grams of sucrose provided during an intensive exercise session was able to reduce the rise in plasma I-FABP, a protein released from damaged small intestinal epithelial cells. Connery Brennan of the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues have shown that four weeks of supplementation with Lactobacillus salivarius in a small population of elite endurance athletes showed a trend towards reducing exercise-induced gut permeability.

The real question is: could acute damage to the gut stimulate positive adaptation? In other words, we know that taking ibuprofen can blunt muscle inflammation, and result in less muscle growth and muscle protein synthesis after an exercise session. Similarly, could sucrose or probiotics blunt the adaptation of the gut to prolonged exercise stress? I certainly look forward to more studies in this area, and will hope to shed more light on this with my own research!

4) Exercise volume influences the gut microbiota

The exercise and gut research didn’t stop there. On Friday, I met Jarrad Hampton-Marcell of the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose lab has recently performed the second longitudinal study assessing exercise and the gut microbiota. While our longitudinal study looked at the effects of an exercise intervention in previously sedentary humans, Jarrad’s recent work focused on trained swimmers during their end of season tapering.

Even with a small sample size of 13 swimmers, the reduction in training volume resulted in a significant decrease in microbial diversity. Moreover, bacterial families commonly associated with short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production (Barnesiellaceae, Clostridiaceae, Lachnospiraceae, and Ruminococcaceae) had lower abundance after reducing training volume. SCFAs are generally beneficial and have been shown to increase with exercise in both mice and humans.

They also found that the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes decreased as the swimmers reduced the amount of training. This was similar to findings by Ryan Durk and colleagues at San Francisco State University, who found that the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio could fairly accurately predict aerobic fitness level in healthy adults. Pretty neat stuff!

5) Keeping people well costs much less than caring for someone who is sick!

More than anything, it’s inspiring to know how many people out there are advocating for preventive medicine and the use of lifestyle-based interventions to bring down healthcare costs. For instance, Dr. Cherie Pettitt highlighted that we scoff at $250 upfront to cover lab testing, a physical exam, and lifestyle intervention support, yet we have no problem spending $38,000 in healthcare dollars to treat someone who has recently had a heart attack and needs weeks of bed rest. I couldn’t help but see the parable to functional medicine, where a few hundred dollars spent on comprehensive testing and health coaching support upfront could prevent disease and optimize health over a lifetime.

My favorites in the twin cities

Lastly, here were some of my favorite healthy restaurants, places, and things to do in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area:

Shish: (St. Paul): a casual but high-quality counter-serve Mediterranean food. The chicken shawarma, garlic sauce, and tabbouleh salad were superb.

Agra Culture Kitchen & Press: counter-serve place with a number of healthy, gluten-free, and paleo options! My husband, Steven, and I both had the Paleo Burger Bowl and were not disappointed. The cold brew coffee was also excellent.

Thomas Sadler Bird Sanctuary: a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the wildlife. We joined the Minneapolis Audubon Society for a morning bird walk and saw a great horned owl!

The Wedge Co-op: a fantastic place to get local produce and fresh meat and fish. We particularly enjoyed their selection of fresh salmon, organic grass-fed steak, local kombucha, jicama, and gooseberries!

300 Cliffton: a historic mansion that was our Airbnb for the first 5 days of our trip. The owners and staff are extremely friendly, and we met so many interesting people during our stay.

Loring Park: a beautiful park near the convention center that we will always remember as our first-ever sighting of wood ducks!

Hen House Eatery: a bustling brunch/lunch place with many gluten-free options. I had a great salmon salad and my husband really enjoyed the “kitchen sink” omelet.

Minnehaha Park: A great place to hike around a bit and enjoy the nice weather. A local told us we were lucky to see the waterfall running full force!

The Sassy Spoon: a cute little place that we went to after Minnehaha falls. I had an excellent turkey burger with arugula and honey mustard, and my husband loved their coconut chicken curry.

Peace Coffee: superb cold brew coffee. The café fresa, a unique mix of cold brew coffee, strawberries, mint, and honey, was particularly tasty.

Zelo: A great upscale Italian place in the heart of downtown Minneapolis with a designated gluten-free menu. Both my herb salmon and vegetables and my husband’s turkey burger were superb.

Exercise is Medicine: highlights from ACSM 2018 (and my favorite eats in Minneapolis!)

This past week, I traveled to Minneapolis for the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting. This was my second year attending ACSM, a five-day conference that brings in over 6,000 attendees from around the world to share their research in kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, and sports medicine. It’s a great opportunity to meet other researchers and learn about the newest findings, often months before they are ever published.

In this brief article, I’ll share my top five highlights from ACSM 2018, and some of my favorite restaurants and places to visit in the twin cities.

1) Muscle is an endocrine organ

Coming from a background in nutritional sciences, I always find ACSM a refreshing way to brush up on some exercise physiology. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to listen to a fascinating talk on muscle as an endocrine organ – in other words, your muscle is an organ that produces hormones, much like your thyroid, pituitary gland, and ovaries!

In fact, exercising muscle is now known to produce 700 different signaling molecules, called myokines. These myokines are already known to communicate with the liver, pancreas, bone, heart, fat tissue, and the immune system, so I wouldn’t be surprised if future research finds direct communication to the gut and skin as well!

2) Strength training is under-recognized for chronic disease treatment

If you open any old exercise science textbook, you’ll probably learn that you need to engage in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity if you want to glean the benefits of exercise for disease prevention. If resistance training is mentioned at all, it’s likely an afterthought, or solely promoted for the maintenance of muscle mass.

But thanks to emerging research, a new paradigm is gaining ground: practiced regularly, resistance training can also protect against chronic diseases. Dr. Stuart Phillips spoke to the benefits of strength training for blood glucose regulation, body weight control, aging, cancer, and mental health. According to this new paradigm, incorporating both aerobic and resistance training into your exercise regimen is key for optimal disease prevention.

3) Carbs and probiotics may blunt the gut permeability caused by exercise

We know that prolonged, intense exercise can reduce blood flow to the gut and result in gut damage. Many researchers are interested in nutritional strategies to mitigate this damage to the small intestine during exercise. I highlighted several of these strategies in my article on exercise and gut barrier function. At ACSM, I was fortunate to meet members of two different research groups with newly collected data in this area of interest.

Kristin Jonvik of the Netherlands and her colleagues have now shown that 40 grams of sucrose provided during an intensive exercise session was able to reduce the rise in plasma I-FABP, a protein released from damaged small intestinal epithelial cells. Connery Brennan of the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues have shown that four weeks of supplementation with Lactobacillus salivarius in a small population of elite endurance athletes showed a trend towards reducing exercise-induced gut permeability.

The real question is: could acute damage to the gut stimulate positive adaptation? In other words, we know that taking ibuprofen can blunt muscle inflammation, and result in less muscle growth and muscle protein synthesis after an exercise session. Similarly, could sucrose or probiotics blunt the adaptation of the gut to prolonged exercise stress? I certainly look forward to more studies in this area, and will hope to shed more light on this with my own research!

4) Exercise volume influences the gut microbiota

The exercise and gut research didn’t stop there. On Friday, I met Jarrad Hampton-Marcell of the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose lab has recently performed the second longitudinal study assessing exercise and the gut microbiota. While our longitudinal study looked at the effects of an exercise intervention in previously sedentary humans, Jarrad’s recent work focused on trained swimmers during their end of season tapering.

Even with a small sample size of 13 swimmers, the reduction in training volume resulted in a significant decrease in microbial diversity. Moreover, bacterial families commonly associated with short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production (Barnesiellaceae, Clostridiaceae, Lachnospiraceae, and Ruminococcaceae) had lower abundance after reducing training volume. SCFAs are generally beneficial and have been shown to increase with exercise in both mice and humans.

They also found that the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes decreased as the swimmers reduced the amount of training. This was similar to findings by Ryan Durk and colleagues at San Francisco State University, who found that the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio could fairly accurately predict aerobic fitness level in healthy adults. Pretty neat stuff!

5) Keeping people well costs much less than caring for someone who is sick!

More than anything, it’s inspiring to know how many people out there are advocating for preventive medicine and the use of lifestyle-based interventions to bring down healthcare costs. For instance, Dr. Cherie Pettitt highlighted that we scoff at $250 upfront to cover lab testing, a physical exam, and lifestyle intervention support, yet we have no problem spending $38,000 in healthcare dollars to treat someone who has recently had a heart attack and needs weeks of bed rest. I couldn’t help but see the parable to functional medicine, where a few hundred dollars spent on comprehensive testing and health coaching support upfront could prevent disease and optimize health over a lifetime.

My favorites in the twin cities

Lastly, here were some of my favorite healthy restaurants, places, and things to do in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area:

Shish: (St. Paul): a casual but high-quality counter-serve Mediterranean food. The chicken shawarma, garlic sauce, and tabbouleh salad were superb.

Agra Culture Kitchen & Press: counter-serve place with a number of healthy, gluten-free, and paleo options! My husband, Steven, and I both had the Paleo Burger Bowl and were not disappointed. The cold brew coffee was also excellent.

Thomas Sadler Bird Sanctuary: a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the wildlife. We joined the Minneapolis Audubon Society for a morning bird walk and saw a great horned owl!

The Wedge Co-op: a fantastic place to get local produce and fresh meat and fish. We particularly enjoyed their selection of fresh salmon, organic grass-fed steak, local kombucha, jicama, and gooseberries!

300 Cliffton: a historic mansion that was our Airbnb for the first 5 days of our trip. The owners and staff are extremely friendly, and we met so many interesting people during our stay.

Loring Park: a beautiful park near the convention center that we will always remember as our first-ever sighting of wood ducks!

Hen House Eatery: a bustling brunch/lunch place with many gluten-free options. I had a great salmon salad and my husband really enjoyed the “kitchen sink” omelet.

Minnehaha Park: A great place to hike around a bit and enjoy the nice weather. A local told us we were lucky to see the waterfall running full force!

The Sassy Spoon: a cute little place that we went to after Minnehaha falls. I had an excellent turkey burger with arugula and honey mustard, and my husband loved their coconut chicken curry.

Peace Coffee: superb cold brew coffee. The café fresa, a unique mix of cold brew coffee, strawberries, mint, and honey, was particularly tasty.

Zelo: A great upscale Italian place in the heart of downtown Minneapolis with a designated gluten-free menu. Both my herb salmon and vegetables and my husband’s turkey burger were superb.

By |2018-06-02T23:03:53+00:00June 2nd, 2018|