The “Critical Point of Change”

Success truly is a habit, not a destination or static state.

I note this because we’re coming up on the New Year and people will invariably think that if they just really want something, that not only can they have it but they can keep it once they have it. This presupposes health and fitness are trinkets, items that once collected are kept in perfect order unless acted on by an outside force.

Here’s the thing: doing “nothing” once achieved *is* the outside force. What maintains health and fitness is not really wanting it, but wanting it just enough to regularly check in on it, in this case that means habits conducive to maintaining your earned health and fitness. What it is not, in spite what we might wish, is a “critical point of change,” a threshold that once crossed, changes the state of affairs permanently.

What do I mean? In the book Ubiquity, physicist and science journalist Mark Buchanan introduces the reader to the science of what he calls “historical physics”–the study of systems that are far from equilibrium and, as he puts it poised “on the knife edge of instability”. He describes a much-studied model of such catastrophe-prone systems, a simple sandpile. Build a sandpile by dropping one grain at a time on the now heap of sand grains. It will eventually reach a critical state at which a grain can either make the pile a bit taller or start an avalanche, small or large. Scientists experimenting with real and virtual sandpiles have observed several important regularities:

  1.  The time between avalanches is extremely variable, making it essentially impossible to predict when the next avalanche will occur.
  2.  The size of avalanches is also extremely variable, making it essentially impossible to predict whether the next avalanche will be tiny or huge.
  3.  A big avalanche doesn’t need a big cause; one grain can trigger a sandpile-flattening event.

While biological systems absolutely adhere to the laws of physics, human beings and their behavioral tendencies do not. The idea that, at some point, a switch is flipped and you are on good behavior autopilot is a fallacy. It gets easier, of course, approximating automatic, but if you slack off, backsliding is still very easy. This is why you build an environment that makes that backsliding hard (i.e. no junk food in the pantry) so when our fragile humanity kicks in, we’ve saved ourselves ahead of time.

To put it another way, when asked how long you have to do this, a trainer friend of mine put it succinctly:

Till you die, ma’am.

“Better or worse, those are your options”

This is a brief post but it comes on the back of a discussion with my trainers about exercises. It’s our job as trainers to keep people on track toward their goals while giving them just enough of the stuff they’d rather do. A little give and take makes for good relationships.

With that in mind, my friend Dallas Hartwig has a saying about food: “The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options.”

Similarly, exercises exist on a spectrum, from better to worse. There are no “neutral” exercises (before you argue, I’ll explain in a second).

In the short term, an exercise is either dangerous or useless, depending on the client’s level and goals. So for a population training for health and longevity, a snatch is a dangerous exercise relative to your goals. If you’re an olympic lifter, the snatch is your job. This is what separates a good trainer from a bad trainer: applying good exercises to the wrong population is a recipe for disaster at worst or a waste of time at best.

So why is a “waste of time” exercise not neutral? Similar to the above, an exercise can either make your workout more or less productive, which makes you more or less healthy. It’s like a barbell “turtles all the way down.” If you’re crowding out good exercises with poor exercises (not dangerous) relative to the level and goals of the client, you’re making the workout less productive in the short term, and the client less healthy in the long run.

So as you’re moving along as a trainer gaining ability, remember that just because a client wants something, it must be weighed in both the short and long term to satisfy the goals of the client.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Nutrient Density: The Magic Of Zero

Old internet joke: what happens when you divide by zero? You destroy a city, that’s what.

divide-by-zero3

You can’t divide by zero in euclidean space…well you can but your outcome will be wrong. However, in nutrition you can and this magic leads to “correct but meaningless” statements like “kale is the most nutrient dense food on Earth.”

The Demon in the Denominator

So how is nutrient density calculated? It’s pretty simple:

The amount of a nutrient (vitamin, mineral, etc) in a serving of food divided by the total calories of a serving of food

Veggies just don’t have a lot of calories, so if you’re dividing by nearly zero, the nutrient density score will approach infinity…or at least by a large number relative to, say, meat.

The problem becomes how that sways decision making in food stuffs. Dividing a food’s nutrient content by nearly zero kcal equals very high nutrient density (again, a ratio of vitamins, minerals, etc. to its kcal), but that’s not total nutrient content. The absolute is low per serving, even if the relative amount of said nutrient is quite high. So you have to eat a LOT of kale to get enough off the good stuff. Kale’s rad, but I don’t want it to be the ONLY thing I eat.

Why do I mention this? Because this is where animal products shine.

Nutrient Richness

Absolute nutrient content is where meats shine. Look in almost any college textbook for sources of key vitamins and minerals, and you’ll almost always find meat near the top of the list.

I love fruits and veggies. Beyond vitamins and minerals, they’re packed with thousands of phytochemicals (phyto = plant) in complex combinations that help our health and physique, often through a hormetic response (for a really complex explanation, read this). But researchers are increasingly coming back to meat, basically animal muscle, because it’s rich in “zoochemicals”.

Never heard of “zoochemicals”? Zoochemical is general term for the many chemicals found in animal products that can have health promoting properties. Further, they’re found only in animal products or found in relatively high amounts compared to most plant foods. And the biggest thing? It’s not a silly “denominator-approaching-zero” thing, meat has meaningful amounts of these zoochemicals per serving, making meat nutrient rich. So if nutrient density is a relative measure, nutrient richness is an absolute measure. It’s either there or it isn’t.

Speaking of there, what sort of things are we talking about? Here are a few zoochemicals found in nutrient-rich meat and some of their potential benefits:

  • Quality protein (lean tissue building, metabolic function)
  • Vitamin B12 (essential nutrient, red cell formation, energy)
  • Heme Iron (readily absorbed form, fights fatigue in some persons)
  • Zinc (readily absorbed, most diets are deficient)
  • n-3 fatty acids (potent EPA and DHA, especially compared to the plant’s n-3, linoleic acid)
  • Creatine (muscular power,cell volume)
  • Carnosine (cellular buffering, antioxidant effects)
  • Coenzyme Q10 (antioxidant effects, energy generation)

So am I saying it’s time to go all carnivore? No, not at all. I’m underlining the fact that we’re omnivores and that both plant and animal foods have different beneficial properties for health and fitness. Demonizing “carbs” when you mean “processed junk food” is the same thought error as demonizing “meat” when you mean “processed foods that happen to contain meat.” Human animals need both and now you know why.

So next time you’re at your local organic grocer and they’re carrying on about nutrient density, you’ll crack a little smile because you know.

 

Keith’s Ancestral Health Symposium talk is live!

Hey gang,

I’ll keep this short: both Keith and I presented at the AHS14 event this past month at UC Berkeley. He spoke about how things we often associate with astronauts were not invented by NASA and pontificates about how we may use civilian equipment, namely something like our ARX equipment, to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue during prolonged microgravity exposure. Take a look!

 

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

“Focus in, y’all”

rocks

We live in a world where we are forced to be externally attentive, to focus on things outside of ourselves, be it mind or body. Part of what makes Efficient Exercise so efficient is that we’re concentrating the stimulus to maximize the result. Another component of the maximization process is creating a space where the effort of a client can be maximized via the environment. I discussed this in my post about keeping it cold.

Another component of this is the use of having a client sit still when they first come in the gym. The vast majority of the day, people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. To combat this, I typically have a client just. Sit. Still. Really. I stick them on the first piece of equipment they’ll be using, tell them to “Focus. Leave everything else outside during this workout.” While they do that, I set up the rest of the workout. In my studio, there is no music, do other trainers, and the only distraction is the line of people in the Popeye’s drive-thru across the street. Total aside: you wouldn’t believe the number of Bentley and Rolls Royces I’ve seen in that drive-thru. Money doesn’t always buy the finer things in life!

Anyway, what I’ve found with clients is that those who do this have much better workouts than those who do not. If a client is late for whatever reason and cannot just sit still for a bit before their workout, they tend to have a lower quality, lower control workout. They’re already thinking about their next “thing” because they’re late. As a result, their subjective workout quality suffers.

There is some research to indicate that the use of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitates increased physical activity, but so far as I can tell there’s no peer-reviewed studies on the effect of MBSR on workout performance. Further, there are some individuals who have tried to combine the two into a system of sorts (“Focus Intensity Training” comes to mind), but performing BBS or a Slow/HIT has a large swath of mindfulness at its creamy center: you have to be mindful of your breathing, mindful of your turnarounds, mindful of your speed, mindful of your tendencies to wiggle and want to heave, mindful of your behavior near fatigue…basically you’re mindful the whole time.

The thing is that if you don’t start by just slowing down before the workout, you’re trying to catch up. It’s like the exercise is happening to you rather than you facilitating the exercise. So take a moment before your next workout to focus in, y’all. Not some sort of long meditation; just sit quietly focusing on your breathing with the intent of being fully present for your workout. It’ll do you well.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

“Why do you keep it so COLD in here?!”

At my studio, we keep things pretty cold. Anywhere from 64 to 68*F throughout the year. You’d likely wonder what’s the point, as most places seem to be encouraging more heat: hot room yoga, Xfit boxes with the bay doors open in summer, boot camps in the screaming summer sun, etc. It’s rather different compared to these other places, so what’s the deal?

During my first certification and job, it was basically “People work harder in the cold.” That was the answer I got, and while true, it didn’t tell me why they were able to work harder in the cold. It was sort of a “handed down from on high” commandment; I wanted the science. And during graduate school I found it.

While probably not the first researcher to study this, the man whose research work is most focused on exercise and environment is Lars Nybo. His research has dealt with how hyperthermia (exceedingly warm conditions in the human body) changes muscle function, brain function, and human performance. I’m going to discuss a little slice of his research and then provide the bigger picture for EE clients.

In his study, “Hyperthermia and central fatigue during prolonged exercise in humans” Nybo demonstrates how hyperthermia changes force output, regardless of fatigue. Two groups of trainees cycled for 1 hour in either a thermoneutral environment, or a hyperthermic environment. After 1 hour of exercise, the trainees were then put on a knee extension machine and encouraged to exert as hard as possible to measure the force output of the thigh musculature. Take a look at the result:

F3.large

So what the heck are you looking at? The top graph (“A”) shows the rate of force output decline difference between the hyperthermic group and the thermoneutral (control) group. Also in that graph, you can see lines that spike up from the trending measure line, which is where the researchers actually electronically stimulated the tissue to measure it’s true maximum force output. Remember: muscle force is not just what the tissue can actually produce, but also what the central nervous system will allow or is capable of at the moment. You can see this difference in graph B, where the hyperthermic group is significantly less forceful compared to the control, as far as a percentage of what the tissue is capable of producing. Finally, the third graph (“C”) shows the surface measure of muscle activation; again, a clear reduction, thus reduced force.

So what this shows is that the hotter the environment is, the less forceful the muscular contractions are, NOT because the tissue is less capable but because the central nervous system is reducing force output or work. This makes sense: the harder (or more) the work, the more heat produced. The already hyperthermic environment means that hyperthermia is a very real threat, so your body “turns down the volume” to keep that from happening.

In the context of training, there are a LOT of variables that are trying to be optimized during a session. If you’re going to only train once or twice per week in a “formal” fashion, the environment needs to be optimized as best as possible for the task. By keeping the room cool, not only are we able to appeal to those who don’t like sweating, we’re also able to facilitate harder work. This deeper stimulus is what allows us to have less frequent workouts with the same, or better, result. It’s not arbitrary: the cold is a big reason why we’re so efficient.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

 

More on Chronic Cardio and Longevity

This is a bit of a follow up to a comment that was left on the blog post “Central Versus Peripheral Adaptations.” A reader named Craig left the following comment:

After reading lots of blog posts on strength oriented web sites about how “cardio” and “aerobics” aren’t really that great for improving cardiovascular condition, I was surprised by the first chart on central adaptions. It sure looks like cardio does excel at “pumping up” the heart muscle….

For those who missed the graph in said post, take a look:

Heart Volume

Those abbreviations are for various physical dimensions of the heart muscle. And Craig is correct in that when you look at just these measures, cardiorespiratory activity looks really, really great for the heart. These measures are what Dr. James O’Keefe would call “structural cardiovascular changes” and “elevations of cardiac biomarkers.” The literature calls this the “Athlete’s Heart.” The problem is that everything looks good on the outside, but there is more to heart health than the size of the muscle. What about function?

Long term, long distance training is associated with a number of negative changes to the heart, including:

  • patchy myocardial fibrosis
  • increased susceptibility to atrial and ventricular arrhythmias
  • coronary artery calcification
  • diastolic dysfunction
  • large-artery wall stiffening

And to that list increased coronary artery plaque volume. In a study published in April in the The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, researchers found that middle-aged males who had run at least 25 marathons (1 marathon/year) had “paradoxically”  nearly double the total plaque and calcified plaque volumes, and nearly 1.5 times the non-calcified plaque volume when compared to an age-matched control group.

The problem in largely similar to the above: they “look” fit, and therefore the public assumes this confers a health advantage. In this study, the runners had lower resting heart rates, Body Mass Index, and triglyceride levels than the sedentary controls. So they also win the “what is your cholesterol?” game. As shown above, your cholesterol can be really, really great,but it’s the wrong measure to be using in this population to determine the health and function of the cardiac system.

Being fit and exercising confers a health benefit, but leveling off of these benefits from exercise happens in very short order. Take a look:

Dose-Response Exercise

So the first and larger drop in health problems (the steepest lines on the left) occur with less than an hour of exercise per week. After that you may start to look better but the health benefits have dropped off considerably. This is why we focus on this space at Efficient Exercise.

Finally, if it seems like I’m picking on Cardiorespiratory training, don’t assume that resistance training doesn’t have it’s own problems. Joint and soft tissue problems also track with increased lifting volume and tonnage, which is why the “beat up old weight lifter” is much more common than the “80 year old powerlifter who has trained all of his life.” The dose makes the poison: running 5k and 10k distances are far less likely incur the damage mentioned above, just as lifting once or twice a week for half an hour is far less likely to incur the soft tissue problems I just noted.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

 

 

 

Resistance Training: The Force Multiplier for Older Trainees

93-Year-Old-Bodybuilder-Started-Lifting-Weights-at-87-3

I recently had a discussion with Dr. Trey Milligan, owner of Sciencefit in Edmond, Oklahoma. He sent me an article regarding protein intake in the elderly. This specific study indicated that, in older individuals, carbohydrate is required with protein to maximize protein synthesis. More simply: without carbs, protein’s effect on lean tissue was reduced. His concern was that, given his population (older trainees), he wanted to ensure that his dietary recommendations were in line with the prevailing research. Let’s gently dig into this and then I’ll give my conclusion.

Aging can bring with it a host of negative adaptations, such as osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, and cognitive decline to name a few. The assumption here is that what is common is what is normal. The fact of the matter is that while there is some amount of decline with age, the degree to which this decline occurs is largely within our control. Our body is supremely adaptable to that with you do, or do not, do. So if you move, your body will better equip your ability to move. Similarly, if you don’t move, your body will make you better at not moving. It is that latter that leads to what are referred to as “hypokinetic diseases.” That is, a lack of movement and the diseases that result, like the ones listed above.

In this population, the sedentary older individuals, the amount of insulin required to create a maximally productive environment for protein synthesis requires more insulin. It’s a wonderfully circular situation: if you are inactive, you lose muscle tissue, which reduces your insulin sensitivity because muscle is where glucose is primarily stored. So less, untrained tissue means less insulin sensitivity. Simultaneously, less muscle means less blood flow to the muscle. The way in which insulin increases protein synthesis is indirectly via vasodilation (enlargement of the vascular strutures in muscle tissue).  The only way to overcome this is to increase the amount of insulin for a given dose of protein to maximize that effect in the available vascular structures and muscle tissues.

Here’s the thing: this is not destiny. The research has shown again and again that it is inactivity, NOTaging, that is responsible for this effect. There is no difference in the insulin sensitivity of younger and older individuals with similar activity levels. Further, resistance training is a beautiful “hack” to increase insulin sensitivity very quickly. Regardless of starting insulin sensitivity, a single bout of resistance training increases insulin sensitivity. Endurance exercise doesn’t do this to as large a degree, owing to the intensity required to sustain it.

Coming full circle, if an older individual lifts weights, do they need to increase their carbohydrate intake to maximize protein synthesis via increased insulin levels? No, no they don’t. The ability to synthesize new muscle tissue is largely a function of how and how often muscle tissue is used. Regardless of the age of a trainee, if the muscle tissue is being used aggressively on a sufficiently regular basis, they’ll synthesize as much muscle protein as a younger trainee.

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

The Healing Power of Touch

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I’m a fan of systems, or at least systems thinking. Organizing ideas into a cohesive structure makes the application of the ideas more targeted and appropriate, especially when exercise and health are the goal. Having said that, I think that we’re a long way off from a total understanding of the nuances of anatomy, physiology, neuromuscular physiology, etc. to be able to determine the “best” system (though evidence points us in the right direction).

I often demonstrate this notion by stating that the only undefeated team in the history of the NFL used the Nautilus system of training, ergo Nautilus is the best training system for football teams that want to win. This isn’t true necessarily but it demonstrates how much such declarative statements are at least inaccurate.

An extension of any training program is the regenerative components of the program. At EE Westlake, I use a sufficient volume of soft tissue work, the Med-X Super Stretch, and the Back Revolution to help clients feel their best. I’ve found good success with this but I’m not convinced it is because of any “magic” in my system; rather I think it’s just the fact that I am paying attention to these at all.

Example: Dr. Craig Bueller, founding of Advanced Muscle Integration Techniques, claims that during his tenure at the Utah Jazz, his teams had “lowest ‘Player Missed Games due to Injury Rate’ of any team in the NBA for 25 years.” Juxtapose that with Gray Cook, PT who is one of the developers of the Functional Movement Screen. The Atlanta Falcons claim that their reduced injury rate has been a direct result of using the Functional Movement Screen to assess the body before an injury can occur.

So if one system is better than the other, why do both produce a result of reduced injuries? It could be the luck of the draw: some seasons have less injuries no matter the system. However, I think it is the fact that there is someone paying attention to trying to heal you as a human.

A great article out of Wired magazine discusses this phenomena. Titled “Dr. Feelgood” in the mag but “Forget the Placebo Effect: It’s the ‘Care Effect’ That Matters” on the internet, Nathanael Johnson discusses a sham acupuncture treatment creating results:

We’ve known for decades that when sick people are given a treatment, even if it’s just a sugar pill, their condition often improves. But that can’t be the whole story, if only because the size of the effect varies wildly from one study to the next. One clue to a better answer is found in research led by Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School: Patients with irritable bowel syndrome were told they’d be participating in a study of the benefits of acupuncture — and one group, which received the treatment from a warm, friendly researcher who asked detailed questions about their lives, did report a marked reduction in symptoms, equivalent to what might result from any drug on the market. Unbeknownst to them, the researchers used trick needles that didn’t pierce the skin.

Now here’s the interesting part: The same sham treatment was given to another group of subjects — but performed brusquely, without conversation. The benefits largely disappeared. It was the empathetic exchange between practitioner and patient, Kaptchuk concluded, that made the difference.

What Kaptchuk demonstrated is what some medical thinkers have begun to call the “care effect” — the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and cared for can improve their health.

Clients who don’t have a doctor ask me if I know any good ones. I know of one or two but none locally who are primary care. I tell them, “Find a DO; at least they’re good at touching and figuring out what is wrong.” This healing touch of the physician, the laying of the hands, is a lost art. There are far more sophisticated tests, but the touch was only part of the diagnosis; it was a reminder that someone was there for you, caring for you.  Dr. Abraham Verghese of Stanford University agrees, which is why he’s trying to bring back the lost art of the physical:

He came to know many of his patients and their families. He visited their homes, attended their deaths and their funerals. One patient, near death, awoke when Dr. Verghese arrived, and opened his shirt to be examined one last time.

“It was like an offering,” Dr. Verghese said, with tears in his eyes. “To preside over the bed of a dying man in his last few hours. I listen, I thump, I don’t even know what I’m listening for. But doing it says: ‘I will never leave you. I will not let you die in pain or alone.’ There’s not a test you can offer that does that.

So my point is this: care is part of treatment, not only in medicine, but in exercise, health, and longevity. Some call it the placebo effect, but we’re fantastically adaptable creatures…maybe the fact that someone is caring (and not doing something that can hurt you in the process) is enough to help supercharge healing and recovery. Readers, it would behoove you to take advantage of this whenever you’re in need.

 

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Fun With Numbers: Fat Intake and Life Expectancy

Now, as much as I love the idea of The Economist (the magazine, not Ben Bernanke), I’ve never actually read a full issue. An informal survey of my (relatively affluent, highly intellectual, very good looking) client base confirms that nobody on planet Earth has read a whole issue of The Economist. I believe there is a job that pays just to read the whole issue every week.

That said, every year The Economist does us a solid and releases the “Pocket World in Figures” which has all sorts of crazy stats, like who had the highest rate of inflation (Belarus, 59.2%) or who produces the most cocoa (Côte d’Ivoire, 1,486,000 tons). However the figures that I’m interested in are fat consumption and longevity per country.

There is a list of countries by fat consumption, noting who has the highest average  percent in the world. It looks like this:

  1. Australia 41
  2. France 41
  3. Spain 41
  4. Belgium 40
  5. Bermuda 40
  6. Cyprus 40
  7. Iceland 40
  8. Italy 40

Now if we compare their fat intake to their life expectancy in years (and rank) it looks like this:

7. Australia 82.1 yrs

8. Iceland 82.0 yrs

Italy 82.0 yrs

11. Spain 81.8 yrs

12. France 81.7 yrs

21. Bermuda 80.8 yrs

33. Belgium 80.0 yrs

36. Cyprus 79.9 yrs

Now unfortunately they do not list the fat intake for all countries, but this begs the question: how can similar fat intake result in such different life expectancies? The short version: there’s a whole lot more to life expectancy than just fat intake.

This is where the model breaks down: when a country (typically France) eats a lot of fat and lives a long time, they call it a “paradox.” It’s only a “paradox” because it doesn’t fit the model, which is that “high fat intake leads to heart disease leads to death.” So instead of changing the model, the label a country “paradoxical” and move on trying to prop up a faulty model.

A great example of this is the clip below, where Dr. Malcolm Kendrick looks at the data compiled from the WHO MONICA study, which is the largest heart disease study ever undertaken. Have a watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8SSCNaaDcE

So what’s the take away? There is a LOT that can happen between when you eat food and what your body does with it. It is very difficult to pin health and longevity on one single data point. It’s interesting in creating better questions for investigation, but there is too much noise between that first point and an outcome of lifespan changes.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

 

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