Minimalist shoe review and Sunday primal living

Sunday posts are not supposed to be sciency right? Having a weekend off is a luxury and I like to treat it as such. Hence I decided to be a lazy tart and sleep in till 7.30am. A vat of coffee, a quick social media catch up and I was out the door to test my new Lucy VivoBarefoots.

I abhor the term “barefoot technology” because it sounds just a gimmicky as ShakeIt weights but I do agree with a concept that walking on 3 cm of very expensive rubber, otherwise known as “conventional sneaker”, is utter nonsense.

VivoBarefoot EvoII in their better days

I never got into Vibrams (I don’t like the idea of rubber between my toes or people jeering in glee as they point to my feet) but I own a pretty nice pair of VivoBarefoot EvoII which I wear to the gym or operating theatres. Which is pretty much the same thing. Their only problem is that they are damn slippery when you leave the safety of the indoor environment, especially if you like jumping on rocks. So to avoid ending up in my own emergency department I normally wear Sketchers. Yeah yeah, I know, don’t judge me.

I really didn’t want slippery soles here

My usual long walk is around 2.5 hrs which takes me down the coast and back, and has a good mix of beach walking, rock hopping, trekking up and down the hills between coves and a few steep sections through the rainforest. The sole of the Lucy is supposed to be ultra thin (3mm) and puncture resistant but it doesn’t feel quite as paper thin as the EvoII, which together with a pretty thick top covering adds to the sturdier feel. The first climb up the rocks went without a slip up but I did slide down a steep path on gravel a couple of times, gracefully landing on my buttocks, although I don’t know whether it was the shoe or my slightly tired quads. The harder top lining started to put a little pressure on my Achilles tendon after 2 hrs but wearing socks helped. The toe cage is wide enough for my narrow foot but if yours is on the wide side you may find it a little constricting.

Terra Plana sizing tends to run small. I normally wear 38 but ordered 39 in these and they were perfect with a sock. Interestingly, I also ordered VivoBarefoot Mary-Janes and they were a bit big in the same size.

Overall, a good walking shoe which feels more like a conventional shoe although does provide the benefit of good proprioception and a light feel.

The rules of the game: get to the other side without touching the sand. GO!

As always, my weekend walk provides me with a few excitements (I am a simple creature and get excited easily). A huge 1.5m goanna decided to leisurely cross my path causing a temporary bladder spasm and a jerky and too-slow reach for the camera. Gotta love Australia.

A young bright gen-Y sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean spreading Nutella on several pieces of white toast. I kid you not.

The usual quick eyes-on-the-sand dash through the nudist beach was again unsuccessful. The happy-in-his-bare-glory gentleman spotted me and jumped out of the bushes to take a lazy stroll towards me. Exhibitionism ain’t nudism.

Fun times.

As I finish off this post I notice that Victoria Prince has also recently written about her hiking adventures. Which makes me think that we have either all run out of science to talk about (unlikely), we are sick and tired of banging our heads against the wall (quite possible) or we are just moving past the obsessive food-will-cure-all-ails mentality. While it indeed starts with food, there is more to health and wellbeing than what you put in your gob.

Also a topic of our recent presentation at Whole9 seminar in Boston, non-nutrition lifestyle factors are starting to become a more prominent feature in this community. Thank heavens for that. At one stage it looked like we were turning into indoor nerds glued to our computers, obsessively arguing over minute details of the latest Pubmed offering, occasionally emerging from the social media dramas to bash our bodies in the variety of HIIT smashfit pursuits. Whaaat? Somebody still doing that? Crazy folks.


Rainforest stair sprints. Or walks.

Anyway, the majority of my activities nowadays are slow intensity performed in a glycogen-depleted state (and when Jamie finally writes up his AHS presentation I will have something to reference!). I try to go for 20-30min walk most days before work, fuelled by caffeine and nothing else; do yoga and strength training once or twice a week. Going for longer and more challenging walks on the weekend fits right into this schedule. So that’s my Slow Movement covered.


My shadow is not taller than me = vitamin D production

Sun exposure is another area I consider a powerful factor in overall wellbeing. Vitamin D is certainly the shiz nowadays but let’s not forget about other benefits of sun exposure: mood enhancing qualities, pain relief, better sleep, eye and skin health.

And finally, there’s something about the expansive vistas, the sound of the ocean and the smell of the rainforest that we, as humans, have long felt a connection with. We have seen a few studies emerge showing the benefit of being close to nature (Mark Sisson has written a good overview about it. What hasn’t this man written about???). But I like to look at this from another point of view. It’s not that being close to nature is better for us, it’s just our indoor artificially-lit air-conditioned existence is so very bad. Going back to nature is…well, natural. It’s another one of these instances when feeling “low level crap” has become the norm.


Well-deserved: scrambled eggs with lox, avocado, duck pate and local vintage cheddar

Hope you can find some restorative activity, sunlight, fresh air, awe-inspiring views and simple pleasures in your Sunday.


Musings on a 40 hour week

Curled up on the couch with a massive cup of coffee, I am wrapping up one of the most horrific weeks since starting work. Having to deal with between 30 and 40 newly admitted patients daily, my pager going off every 5 minutes (god, I hate that sound), I’m on call tonight (please please please do not call me to rechart meds at 2am) and not having seen sunlight since last weekend makes me count the days (14…) till my trip to the US to AHS12.

The tension in the hospital is almost palpable by the end of the week. The conversations are shorter, comments are snarkier and the only smiles you see is when there is the obligatory Friday junk food fest is involved. Somebody is leaving floor 1 for floor 2 so we all have to subject our bodies to a sugar coma to honour this momentous occasion. Maybe this will help us survive the end of the week without killing someone. By the way, in medicine this is not a metaphor.

Child laborers in a coal mine. Source: The History Place photograph of American child labourer from 1908-1912 by Lewis Hine

Let’s talk working hours. I want to know what genius came up with a 40hr working week.  I am not that strong in history but I grew up in the Soviet Russia and the 8 hr day was celebrated a source of pride and a supreme achievement by unions and blue collar workers. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century had a lot to answer for with explosion of factory-based manufacturing and resulting insane working hours. The British Factory Act of 1833 went soft and regulated child labour, limiting the work day of 14-18 year olds to 12hrs and 9-13 yo to 8 hrs. They were so concerned with kids’ education that they told under 9s to stay at school. In comparison to those conditions my working week seems like a walk in the park. Our civilised society is way more civilised nowadays and we should be grateful, right?

Well, actually, who says that a 40hr week is evolutionary appropriate at all? In 1966 an anthropologist by the name of Marshall Sahlins wrote “Notes on the Original Affluent Society” in which he described the lifestyle of modern and ancient hunter-gatherers, estimating their work day to be between 3-5 hrs to the total of 14-20hr working week. Closer to home, Jamie Scott wrote a nice report on the lifestyle of Vanuatu and he also mentioned that the villagers there seemed to have a lot more leisure and play time.

Now I am far from an expert on anthropology and by no means advocate discarding our society, culture and coffee machines to go live in the bush and eat ‘roos or whatever you can catch in your part of the world. But, dayam, a 20hr week sounds way more attractive than a 70 hr limit for hospital doctors recommended by the Australian Medical Association (which is successfully circumvented by hospitals and doctors themselves).

For those interested in an overview of the working conditions of Aussie doctors-in-training (or hospital residents and registrars) read this report on safe working hours from Andrew Lewis, an industrial relations advisor for AMA. Good thing they got a non-doctor to write it. Because doctors are masters at bitching about  their lack of sleep, nutritious food and any resemblance of personal life. However, that whining tends to come with a whiff of hidden pride. The expectations of our seniors (“back in my days we slept in the elevators”), peers and patients make this screwed up lifestyle “a rite of passage.”

Of course, doctors and nurses don’t have a monopoly on insane working conditions. But the media prefers juicy stories of sleepy surgeons armed with a scalpel than  tired cranky lawyers (armed with a Monblanc pen?). The talk inevitably becomes a tad hysterical as it turns to the risk to the community: “jeopardising patients’ safety… Impaired judgement…”  Fair enough, I say. I’d be worried too if I knew that a guy who is about to do a lumbar puncture on my daughter has been working for the last 17hrs. Apparently being awake (not just working, but AWAKE) for 18 hrs is comparable to a blood alcohol level of 0.05. Cool, I can come to work after a bottle of Shiraz and nobody will notice anything different.

Still, forgive me if I am more interested how this lifestyle is affecting my body and my mind. We all know it’s bad but how bad? Can you suck it up for a few years and hope to repair the damage when you have the money to afford holidays in the Pacific and a personal chef? Or is it something that we can mitigate by sleeping in till 8am on the weekend (oh, the luxury!)?

Not a place to be when you are stressed…

Here are some studies that I personally found quite interesting.

1. Acute sleep deprivation resulted in increased hunger and the activation of anterior cingulate gyrus reflected hedonic stimuli in the absence of fasting blood glucose changes. In other words, if you are sleep deprived, those cookies in the jar will call your name with an irresistible siren song.

2. Adults working more than 40hrs a week were 5 times more likely to have suboptimal glycemic control as measured by HbA1C >= 7% than those who worked 20hrs or under. So if your diabetic or pre-diabetic your working hours alone will make your doctor frown and reach for the script pad.

3. An observational study of nearly 17000 Australian full time workers looked at the relationship between working hours and increased BMI. They found that the relationship between long hours and obesity seemed to be mediated by the lack of sleep. This might make you think that it is possible to mitigate the effects of long hours by just increasing your sleep time however…

4. …a study of Japanese white collar workers found that longer working hours had a negative effect on total sleep hours, sleep efficiency and daytime dysfunction. The effect was noticeable at 50hrs a week and the more hours they worked the worse their sleep quality was rated.

Just a note, the whole patronising “Just sleep more” really tends to push my buttons. It’s a bit like “Just eat less and move more” in its sheer unhelpfulness. Do we really think that those poor buggers who lie in bed for hours struggling to nod off because they like it? You can’t get that deep recovery sleep by willpower alone. Try telling any doctor on call that they should stop tossing and turning and get back to their restorative snooze… with a pager next to their ear.

5. Markers of oxidative stress were increased after a 16hr shift in medical residents and an 8 hr shift non-healthcare workers (so once again, you don’t get a free pass if you are in another field).

6. Psychological stress has been found to cause very real physiological phenomena contributing to many diseases. This excellent review of the role of stress in the gut disorders concluded:

From Konturek et al ” Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options”

“1) exposure to stress (especially chronic stress) is a major risk factor in the pathogenesis of different diseases of gastrointestinal tract including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer, functional dyspepsia, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel disease (IBS), and other functional disorders of GI tract;

2) the dysregulation of brain-gut-axis plays a central role in the pathogenesis of stress- induced diseases;  

3) Stress increases intestinal permeability, visceral sensitivity, alteration in GI-motility and leads to profound mast cell activation resulting in release of many proinflammatory mediators

These articles are just a few in a sea of plenty. The scientific evidence is pretty conclusive and pretty overwhelming. Long hours = bad, psychological stress = very bad, lack of sleep = very very bad.

So it’s kind of bewildering that we choose to bury our heads in the sand and carry on with a stiff upper lip. Good luck repairing your leaky gut and undoing the oxidative damage with your superhuman willpower. I’m not suggesting that you should give up your career and go all hippie, greeting sunrise in the nude and weaving loin cloths out of bush plants. Sometimes the acknowledgment that this is not just in your head, but in your gut, your nervous, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems, can go a long way.