Science for Marathon Monday

Update: On Monday afternoon at 2:56pm, two explosions occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In light of these events, PLOS ONE would like to express our deepest sympathies for the victims and families affected by this tragedy.


Still procrastinating on those tax returns? If you have finally filed and are looking to blow off some steam, maybe a 26.2 mile run will do the trick! Today on April 15th, over 27 thousand people will lace up their sneakers, warm up their muscles and prepare for one of the world’s oldest races, the Boston Marathon.

Vasque Mindbenders after a muddy trail run in the hills of Griffith Park.  (c) 2011 Geoff CordnerThe very first Boston Marathon was held in 1897 and was then known as the B.A.A. Road Race. Originally 24.5 miles in length, the race was extended to 26.2 miles in 1924 to conform to the Olympic standard. Since that first race day which featured 15 runners, the marathon has grown immensely, with 26 thousand people participating last year.

In honor of the 117th marathon or whatever race you may be running today, here are some recently published articles featuring the sport:

In a paper published this February, researchers have determined the cause of runners fatigue during a marathon in warm weather. These authors recruited 40 amateur runners to test their fatigue and measure their pace during the race. Through their analysis, the authors found that participants who felt the greatest fatigue had elevated levels of blood markers of muscle breakdown. There is still further research to be done to find if this muscle damage is due to mechanistic or metabolic factors.

But what effect does warm weather have on a marathon? In another recent article, authors investigated whether climate change has affected the winning times of the Boston Marathon.  The authors found the temperatures between 1933 and 2004 did not consistently slow winning times on race day. However, the analysis also indicated that if temperatures warmed by 0.058°C a year, we would have a 95% chance of detecting a slowing of winning marathon times by 2100. And if average race day temperatures had warmed by 0.028°C a year (a mid-range estimate) we would have a 64% chance of detecting a decline in winning timings by 2100.

This analysis gives us some insight on how running may change in the future, but have you ever wondered what the sport was like 30,000 years ago? Unlike current shoe wearing athletes, our ancestors were barefoot runners and so are other modern human populations, including the Daasanach. In an article published this year, researchers have investigated the foot strike patterns among barefoot runners in northern Kenya. Data was collected from 38 adults, who ran at their own speed and distance. The authors found that not all the barefoot runners landed on their fore- or mid foot, but the majority landed on their heels first. This observation dismisses the original hypothesis that the barefoot runners would land on the fore-or mid foot, and suggests that there may be a number of other factors which influence foot strike patterns.

Whether you are ready to take your mark, or getting set to file those taxes, visit our site here for more papers on the topic.



Citation: Del Coso J, Fernández D, Abián-Vicen J, Salinero JJ, González-Millán C, et al. (2013) Running Pace Decrease during a Marathon Is Positively Related to Blood Markers of Muscle Damage. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57602. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057602

Citation: Miller-Rushing AJ, Primack RB, Phillips N, Kaufmann RK (2012) Effects of Warming Temperatures on Winning Times in the Boston Marathon. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043579

Citation: Hatala KG, Dingwall HL, Wunderlich RE, Richmond BG (2013) Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52548. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052548

Image: on Flickr by geoff cordner

Attention All Procrastinators: There’s Research to Help!


It’s the twelfth of April and the clock is ticking on your tax return. For those of you who haven’t filed, we’ve assembled a few PLOS ONE papers to help get you back on track.

If you’ve pulled up your W-2s, but are tempted to stray why not read this study?  Aptly titled “Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior”, this PLOS ONE paper suggests that simply thinking about a task in a different way can improve performance. The researchers instructed study participants to complete a set of simple tasks on the computer. Unbeknownst to the participants, a set of tempting, or distracting, obstacles were embedded in the task. The control group followed the same instructions for the first and second set of tasks. Meanwhile, the test group was told that the second task “aim[ed] to assess your willpower”.

Researchers found that reinterpreting the given task in a different way affected the participants’ performance. Reappraisal helped participants increase the importance of the goal (e.g., proving they had willpower) and decrease the importance of the temptation. Consequently, members of the test group spent less time distracted and derived less pleasure from the temptation than their counterparts in the control group.

In another PLOS ONE study, researchers examined the relationship between physical fitness, as measured by heart rate variability and cognitive performance. Individuals who were recruited underwent physical testing and were divided into high-fit and low-fit groups.  The researchers asked both groups to perform three cognitive tests that measured response time and various types of attention. They found that participants in the high-fit group performed distinctly better than their low-fit counterparts in the first cognitive task, which measured sustained attention.

For those of you who have tried going to the gym and reappraising the taxing task at hand, we’ve found another study that may help you beat procrastination. All you need to do is focus on this:

According to research published last year, viewing kawaii (a Japanese word for cute) images may affect behavior and increase focus. Participants in this study were asked to look at images of baby animals, adult animals, or neutral objects (e.g., food). Researchers then gave participants tasks to complete, such as use tweezers to remove small objects from holes or search for a specific number in a number grid, and assessed their performance. Their results indicate that individuals who looked at cute images prior to the task tended to perform better in tasks that require carefulness.

Procrastinators everywhere, there’s hope – and time – yet! If this science hasn’t convinced you to get back to the task at hand, read more PLOS ONE research about motivation, goals, and reward here.


Leroy V, Grégoire J, Magen E, Gross JJ, Mikolajczak M (2012) Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39493. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039493

Luque-Casado A, Zabala M, Morales E, Mateo-March M, Sanabria D (2013) Cognitive Performance and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056935

Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362


Procrastination – A1, by LadyDayDream.

Make Room for Me!, by Kimberly Tamkun / USFWS Mountain Prairie.

Women’s Health and Fitness Series Part V: Pregnancy

In this last post of the Women’s Health and Fitness Series, we delve into the mother of all topics: pregnancy. As one of the few health topics that truly only affects women, pregnancy is highly stressful on for women’s bodies, but amazingly, they know exactly how to respond to this event. In addition, many of the issues previously raised in the series continue to carry weight when discussing pregnancy.

One aspect of pregnancy that carries a lot of weight is exactly that: the amount of weight a pregnant woman gains. Obesity in pregnancy is associated with a long list of medical complications for a mother and child, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, infection and many others.  A PLOS ONE study published in July 2012 investigates the link between healthy weight during pregnancy and the associated risks when the term “eating for two” is taken too liberally. Obesity in pregnancy is associated with a long list of medical complications for a mother and child, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, infection and many others.

The authors, from the University of Ulster in Ireland, wanted to see if regimented diet and physical activity was an efficient intervention to reduce excess gestational weight gain (GWG). They reviewed 5 studies that had examined a total of 971 pregnant women with a mean BMI of 26. They found that setting goals through 1-on-1 diet and lifestyle counseling was the most successful strategy to help women gain appropriate amounts of weight during pregnancy. The researchers also note that while weight is a primary concern, and behavior modification is an effective way to address the problem, more research is required “to target women’s psychological needs as well as their emotional and physical needs”.

Pregnancy is a unique experience for the female gender, as well as for each individual woman.  Much like we’ve discussed throughout the series, health incorporates a balance of many factors, like nutrition, weight, emotional well-being, and should be tailored to each person.

With that, happy Women’s Health and Fitness Day, and we hope this month’s series has been informative and inspirational!

Image Credit: makelessnoise on Flickr CC-by license

Citation: Brown MJ, Sinclair M, Liddle D, Hill AJ, Madden E, et al. (2012) A Systematic Review Investigating Healthy Lifestyle Interventions Incorporating Goal Setting Strategies for Preventing Excess Gestational Weight Gain. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39503. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039503





Announcing: Women’s Health and Fitness Series

This month, in honor of National Women’s Health and Fitness Day on September 26th, we’ll be exploring upcoming and previously published work in PLOS ONE surrounding this topic. The breadth of this subject is wide and, sure, we could probably start a whole new blog just to discuss PLOS ONE articles about women’s health, but instead we’ve created a bite-sized series that will highlight a few important issues, including cardiovascular health, anorexia, pregnancy, and ovarian cancer.

We know that physical fitness has significant repercussions for overall physical and mental well-being, and the results of a clinical trial  published in PLOS ONE earlier this year further underscore how physical activity relates to other health issues. The study, led by researchers from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana showed that for overweight women, 6 months of aerobic exercise reduced total counts of white blood cells and neutrophils, two markers commonly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and death.

The researchers monitored 390 participants, who alternated between sessions of walking on a treadmill and riding a recumbent bike. One group acted as a control, and the other three groups were prescribed specific exercise “dosages.” The study showed that any increase in exercise improved the participants’ white blood cell and neutrophil counts, and that the effects were generally dose-dependent, with increased exercise resulting in increased health benefit returns.

The study was part of a broader trial called “The Dose-Response to Exercise in Women Aged 45–75 yr” (DREW) study. The most compelling part of this research was that the doses of exercise were strictly monitored in a lab, which led to adherence by the subjects and produced high-quality results.

PLoS ONE 7(2): e31319. Table 2: Mean (95%CI) change in anthropometric and fitness data and total WBC and WBC subfraction counts after 6 months of intervention.

Lack of aerobic exercise may also contribute to the ever-increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes found in Americans. The CDC estimates that 26 million Americans have diabetes, half of them women, and it is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are Type 2 diabetes, which is developed by adults late in life and is often a result of obesity and other environmental factors. (Type 1 is more commonly found in children born without the ability to produce insulin.)

There may also be a correlation between socioeconomic status and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, as explored in a clinical trial  published in December 2011. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston observed 23,992 women between February 1993 and March 2007 and found that during this period, 1,262 women developed Type 2 diabetes. Lower socioeconomic status was associated with increased diabetes risk in these women, and this correlation was largely explained by behavior, particularly increased weight.

These two studies only offer a small sample of the extensive research published in this field, both in PLOS ONE and elsewhere, but nonetheless provide compelling evidence that it’s important to get out there and get active.  I look forward to sharing more examples over the next month, so stay tuned!

Citation: Johannsen NM, Swift DL, Johnson WD, Dixit VD, Earnest CP, et al. (2012) Effect of Different Doses of Aerobic Exercise on Total White Blood Cell (WBC) and WBC Subfraction Number in Postmenopausal Women: Results from DREW. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31319. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031319

Citation: Lee TC, Glynn RJ, Peña JM, Paynter NP, Conen D, et al. (2011) Socioeconomic Status and Incident Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Data from the Women’s Health Study. PLoS ONE 6(12): e27670. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027670

Photo Credit: Lululemonathletica w/CC-by License