February 11, 2014

Lactic acid makes our muscles burn after a run, but it can also make us happier and more motivated, according to a new study.     Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

Lactic Acid Fuels Your Brain

To keep you happy, motivated, fit

Lactic acid isn’t your muscles’ foe. It can actually keep you happy, fit, and motivated, according to a study published Tuesday.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London found that lactate—or lactic acid—causes the brain to release a hormone and neurotransmitter crucial for basic brain function. The hormone, called norepinephrine, helps control stress, pain, and appetite and can motivate us to get out of bed in the morning.

Most of us have experienced lactic acid buildup in our muscles—and we know it’s not fun. When we exercise, our bodies produce lactate, which is what makes our muscles burn and get fatigued. But in the brain, it’s an important energy source to keep neurons fueled. It’s also a signal to those neurons to create more of the essential motivating hormone. 

“If we can regulate the release of noradrenaline—which is absolutely fundamental for brain function—then this could have important implications for the treatment of major health problems such as stress, blood pressure, pain, and depression,” says Dr. Anja Teschemacher from the University of Bristol.  

Sounds like it’s time for some lactic-threshold burnouts.  

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USA's Shaun White reacts after falling during his first run in the final of the men's snowboard halfpipe during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.     Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Shaun White Fails at Olympic Threepeat

Favorite finishes fourth in halfpipe, no medal

Switzerland and Japan are taking home halfpipe medals from Sochi, but unfortunately for the United States and Shaun White, the Olympics doesn't award hardware for fourth place.

"It's tough. I really wanted to win tonight, but it wasn't my night," White told BBC 5 Radio Live.

White fell twice during his first run of the halfpipe finals, scoring a dismal 35.00 and dropping to 11 out of 12 in the field that he led earlier today during the qualifying round. Because the leader of the qualifying round goes last in the finals, White knew he'd have to do just as well as he did in the qualifier to win his third Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe.

Sketchy landings on his second of two runs in the final scored him only a 90.25, 4.5 points behind first-place Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov. Fifteen-year-old prodigy Ayumu Hirano from Japan took silver, and fellow countryman Taku Hiraoka took bronze. Americans Danny Davis and Gregory Bretz finished tenth and 12th.

After winning halfpipe gold at the 2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, White was on the cusp of being the first American man to win the same event in three consecutive Games. Now that this title is impossible for White, speedskater Shani Davis will attempt to do it in the 1,000-meter race on Wednesday.

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Anyone can record high-definition aerial video with a setup like this for around $1,000.     Photo: alexsalcedo/Thinkstock

Drones Buzz Sochi

UAVs are changing the way we watch sports

During this weekend’s Olympic coverage, many spectators noticed a small, spiderlike drone zipping around the slopes of Sochi. Well, get used to it. Camera-carrying drones are likely to become the norm at large sporting events. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can capture angles, get close to athletes, and highlight new perspectives like nothing before.

What’s unique about the drones being used at the Olympics is their ability to transmit high-definition video to live TV. These aren’t your hobby shop RC helicopters; top-of-the-line units can cost up to $40,000, and that doesn’t include the often more expensive camera you’re trusting the drone to fly.

Following Amazon’s announcement about using drones for delivery, the United Arab Emirates has started its own UAV system. The six-month pilot program will deliver IDs and driver’s licenses to citizens across the seven emirates. A full-time drone service will be rolled out early next year.

Also this weekend, a Connecticut man flew his drone-mounted camera over a fatal car crash near Hartford. Although the police did not arrest him for flying the drone, their report was a catalyst for a separate FAA investigation. The FAA still prohibits using drones for any sort of commercial use in the United States; however, the agency has recently authorized test programs, which will likely loosen regulations over time.

The Connecticut man was reportedly a freelance journalist with ties to a local news station. The station later said the man was not compensated for using his drone.

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Just how old are the stars in the night sky?     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Universe's Oldest Star Discovered

Provides clues about the Big Bang

Our sun has burned for about 4.5 billion years. Think that's old? Scientists have discovered a star that makes the sun look like a youngster—and they think it's the oldest one in the universe.

The team, led by astronomers at the Australian National University who wrote about their work in Nature, believes the star formed 13.7 billion years ago, shortly after the Big Bang. They hope the star—which, at 6,000 light years from Earth, resides relatively nearby in astronomical terms—can provide clues about the chemistry of ancient stars and the universe's earliest stages.

"This is one of the first steps in understanding what those first stars were like," says Stefan Keller, one of the Australian astronomers who led the project. "What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars."

That fingerprint has provided scientists with some fascinating data. The star, initially discovered using Australian telescopes and then confirmed with Chile's Magellan telescope, differs a lot from our sun.

For one, it formed from the remains of a primordial star that had a mass 60 times greater than our sun. For our sun to form, hydrogen and helium combined with massive quantities of iron totaling about 1,000 times the Earth's mass. But the newly discovered star differs significantly.

"To make this ancient star, you need no more than an Australia-sized asteroid of iron and lots of carbon," Keller says. "It's a very different recipe that tells us a lot about the nature of the first stars and how they died."

The discovery could have larger implications regarding scientific debates about the Big Bang. Scientists have previously believed ancient stars went through violent, iron-spewing explosions, but this one appears to have few traces of the element. Keller thinks the star's heavy elements like iron were consumed by a black hole that formed when the preceding star exploded.

Stars usually form from the elemental remnants of previous stars. Our sun likely formed after hundreds of cycles of explosions and reformations.

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Kikkan Randall in the 2012 World Cup.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kikkan Randall Out of Freestyle Event

Loses by five-hundredths of a second in quarterfinals

None of us saw it coming. Most pundits predicted cross-country skier Kikkan Randall would medal today at Sochi—she would've been the first American to do so since Bill Koch took silver in 1976. But she missed her chance to go to the semifinals in the women's freestyle sprint by five-hundredths of a second.

She led most of the quarterfinal race but was overtaken in the final meters by German and Norwegian skiers, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Italy's Gaia Vuerich snatched third, clocking in at 2:35.65, and Randall at 2:35.70.

Five-hundredths of a second "is an incredibly close margin, and I'm sure I'll be reliving those moments hundreds of times in my head," Randall told FasterSkier.com. "I'm sure it'll sink in and sting for a while, [but] I gave it my all."

No reason for Randall to pack up and go home, though. She's a strong competitor in the team sprint (semifinals are February 19) and the 4x5-kilometer relay on Saturday.

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