Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ambling Along The X-Axis

Once a week the local paper puts out some pages on the theme of Your Health, condensing the latest science news into an easily digestible form that could fit on a cereal box. This makes it simple to judge the state of your own health and your likelihood of dying, possibly in time to take evasive action.

The articles about longevity get people to sit right up and pay attention. There have been two of these recently. In the first, if I may just summarize, they think that older people who walk briskly live longer than the pokey ones. That's it in a nutshell. The article included a graph of how fast people walk and how long they live. If you knew how fast you walked, you could trot over to the x-axis of the graph and find out when you're due to keel over. Now, in order to find out how fast you walk, you need to know how many meters per second you travel. You need to know this because science has not advanced to the point of being able to use yards and feet. So the first thing you need to do is mark out six meters somewhere. Here in America, where we don't have any meters, this means you need to travel to Canada or some other European country, if you have the woolens for it, and get yourself a meter stick. Make it worth your while and come back with some maple sugar and a comedian. Or maybe, being an old person, you could just ask the Canadians to pack in a meter stick when they send you the cheap drugs.

Now. Lay out a six-meter track, and then have someone start a stopwatch when you cross the starting line and mark down how many seconds it takes you to get across the finish line. You take this number and you divide by six to get your meters per second. There are no instructions for if you only have room for a five-meter track. Also, if your partner with the stopwatch is even less zippy and can't beat you to the finish line, your results might not be accurate. Ditto if it's another old person whose hand-eye reaction time isn't what it used to be.

Interestingly enough, the graph showed that people my age who have a nice brisk pace can hope to live to an average age of 115. Nothing about this result caused anyone to re-check their math, and I'm holding them to it. Especially after reading the second article.

Good Leg Standers
The second article claimed that a person's tippability accurately predicts her odds of dying soon. Naturally, as an easily tipped-over woman, this caught my eye. There were a number of tests suggested to determine one's ability to remain vertical. They all started with "stand on one foot" and escalated from there: time how long you can stand on one foot before having to put the other foot down, then do it with your eyes closed, then with your eyes closed dead drunk holding a bowling ball in one hand and a monkey in the other. I do not intend to try this. I already know I can't stand on one foot with my eyes open for longer than a couple seconds, not even long enough to put on a sock, and that comes in way under the numbers you're supposed to have if you expect to live into next week.

But in all these tests, it's important to use your own judgment about the conclusions. I've been tipping over with regularity for 57 years now (I don't count the first year, before someone talked me out of going on all fours) and I still feel very lifelike. I've learned to compensate for my wobbliness with numerous strategies. These include keeping my eyes open, standing on a minimum of two feet, marrying someone with lightning-quick reflexes, not growing too far away from the ground, and developing bounciness.

Anyway, I maintain that people are often walking briskly just before they pitch over. I suspect that if the scientists who worked up this protocol were to factor out the people who died immediately after falling down into a vat of oil or off a cliff, the morbidity numbers would come down quite a bit.

This Saturday, I will be participating in a Blog Scavenger Hunt, headed up by my friend, the splendid Pat Lichen. She will have a list of questions on her blog, the answers to which can be easily scavenged by visiting the Saturday postings of a bevy of Northwest nature bloggers, including mine. There will be a prize. And glory. It's a bit of a stretch to include Murrmurrs among the scienterrific blogs out there; a little like interviewing the governor of Texas to find out what God wants us to do. But I hear people do that, so I guess I'm in. Be sure to tune in Saturday, and good luck!

27 comments:

  1. Nah, you've got WAY more nature content than Rick Perry has godliness! I'd choose you any day.

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  2. Ditto! This sounds like a fun scavenger hunt, I'll check it out. My tippability quotient turned out to be pretty darn low. Can anybody stand on one foot with eyes closed?? Thanks for the morning smiles, I'm happy now.

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  3. Roxie sez
    Do I walk briskly? Yes. Am I stable? yes. Do I want to live to be 115? I dunno.

    Happy hunting! Are there prizes?

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  4. If I started doing those balancing acts, I'd fall down and break my hip, and die soon after. Ah well...

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  5. This was so much fun, I'm going to start sending you additional blog fodder in the form of my used copies of Scientific American. SciAm is slam full of golden little research nuggets that, in addition to worrying me about NIH's grant budget directors' use of my tax dollars, make me want to apply for a research grant of my own. I could study fruit bat toenail fungus, for instance. This could be my answer to the recession!

    Your friend Pat might be interested in this tidbit, for example: Why Reindeer Don't Go Snowblind.

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  6. Tippability is a touchy subject around here today after yesterday's rare East Coast earthquake!

    However, my favorite comment on the subject of balance was on "Cops": "Heck, Officer, I can't even do that when I'm sober!" Elaine

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  7. I'll try the walk in cold weather, when the incentive to finish and get inside again is great motivation to move fast. In the heat of summer the results will probably show that I died yesterday.

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  8. I am glad you feel (and look) remarkably life like.
    I walked briskly once. And stand on one foot, I can hardly stand on two. I have to sit to put my socks on. That is so I can see my feet though.

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  9. Simon Nicol - me again...August 24, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    "Canada or some other European country...."

    Thanks again Murr - you always impress me...

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  10. An American who knows something about Canada? Wow, that is amazing! (Sadly, most of the Maple Syrup and comedians have been taken over by the US; this happens normally up here.)
    As someone who has passed the age of certifiable decrepitued (65 years), I look askance at tests like the ones on which you have reported. As for your tippability, I see it significantly increased by the support of a black cat. But with that colour of cat, will it's presence decrease your future standing?

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  11. I love compensating for wobbliness with bounciness. And here was I just thinking I had got fat.
    Also love your black moggy - reminds me of Jazz before he launches into attack mode.

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  12. Thanks, I needed a good laugh. Our "medical minute" is one funny minute of our local noon-time "news."

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  13. When we were traveling in India, we tried bus surfing. It was done in a moving bus, full of American tourists who were willing to try standing on one leg, in the isle, with both eyes closed... not holding onto anything. The Indian guide then timed how long it took for a person to tip over... and all the tourists wondered how long it would be before the whole bus tipped over - India has crazy drivers!

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  14. I thought I was the only one who falls over easily.

    However, I will say I no longer fall. I decided to start paying attention a couple of years ago, and I haven't fallen. But I'm usually looking at my feet, so I miss a lot of what's going on around me.

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  15. I think a meter is like an inch isn't it? I figure I can still do that pretty briskly. The balancing article was surely directed toward tight rope walkers.

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  16. I'm going to go look up "moggy," and ponder how important it is to pay attention. Last year while hiking Dave paid so much attention to the ground that he clotheslined himself on a tree branch (that I had walked under easily). It was impressive. It takes him forever to hit the ground--you can pull up a lawn chair and watch.

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  17. Okay. Done. Tater is the official Blog Moggy of Murrmurrs.

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  18. Which begs the question, when Dave fell in the forest, did he make a sound?
    Please note that this is NOT one of the scavenger clue questions: they'll be available at http://www.patriciaklichen.com/ at 9:00 AM this Saturday, Aug 27.

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  19. Hey, Nance--thanks for the link! (And did you send that on purpose because of my last name?!)

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  20. Watch out, Pootie. Your position is endangered.

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  21. rotflmao....I have tipped over so many times, I could be dead already and it just hasn't registered in the space -time continuum.

    crap.

    ooo-ooo...did someone say scavenger hunt?

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  22. Mörr, I think that, based on the last few weeks it is safe to say that both Daves walk fast because they are ridiculously tall, and you have a faster pace than any of us three. I *could* blame my shoes, but who are we kidding–I know you'd still swoosh past me.

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  23. 6 metres is almost 20 feet (19.685 to be exact). I hadn't fallen in my life until two years ago, walking briskly with the dog. A lot of things got broken or wrecked, so I've decided to only be brisk sans dog. Which means never, because you can't do anything involving walking without the dog in this family.

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  24. Being the skeptic that I am, I am wondering how many of those joggers and bicyclists out there who absolutely REFUSE to use the bike/jogging paths and ply their exercise in the STREET skew the longevity graph as a result of their encounters with motor vehicles? That CAN'T be good for lifespan enhancement.

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  25. According to my calculation I walk at a rate of 75 liters per hectare. Factoring my bowling scores and the number of bruises on me I'm dead.

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  26. What, you don't think our big hair guy speaks for God? What treason. (If not now, then I'm sure he'll rectify that if he becomes president. But he doesn't seem to speak for the school board either.

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