My T Cells Are Bigger & Better Than Your T Cells (Unless You’re a Cyclist)

I love cycling: The challenge, the adventure, the sense of freedom and accomplishment.

Little did I know, all the way back in 1990, when I began cycling, that it would boost the T cells in my immune system and give me the muscles of a much-younger person. Cycling is like the fountain of youth … on wheels.

lastChapterThen again, deep down, at the cellular level, maybe my body knew all this scientific stuff and passed along endless DNA strands filled with subliminal messages to my brain that encouraged me to ride, ride and ride some more. Riding is addictive, maybe this is why.

So, a couple of recent studies from British scientists have shown that cycling is chock full of healthy benefits that slow down the aging process. For example, the first study concluded the “the relationship between human aging and physiological function is highly individualistic and modified by inactivity.”

Huh, what?

What this means is: Inactivity (you know, couch-potato tendencies) is bad. Very, very bad. And activity is very, very good.

The study looked at 125 British long-time cyclists (84 men and 41 women) who were 55 to 79 and rode 400 or more miles a month. Here’s what they found, according to a New York Times article: “The cyclists proved to have reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles that more closely resembled those of 30-year-olds than of the sedentary older group.”

OK, that’s just one test. For the science to be real, it has to be duplicated in subsequent tests.

Test number two biopsied muscle tissue from the same 125 cyclists and found: “…that there is little evidence of age-related changes in the properties of VL muscle across the age range studied. By contrast, some of these muscle characteristics were correlated with in vivo physiological indices.”

I know: Why can’t scientists write in simple English?

What they mean is: The older cyclists they studied had muscles that were larger, stronger and more supple than older people who were physically inactive. The muscles of the older cyclists were like those of 30-year-olds.

steve&JustinAnd, the cyclists led much happier lives than the non-cyclists!

I made up this last part. It wasn’t in the studies. But, based on my own studies of hundreds of cyclists over the past couple of decades, I’m pretty sure this is true. Any day that includes a bike ride is a good day, is something pretty much all cyclists think. And say.

Another study drew blood from the older cyclists and found that their thymus glands produced more T cells than inactive people of a similar age. I know from my work at the James Cancer Hospital that T cells are one of the immune system’s most powerful weapons. They detect foreign bodies in the body, flock to them and wipe them out. The more T cells you have, the healthier your immune system will be. The older British cyclists had similar numbers of T cells as people a heck of a lot younger.

Check out this video from one of the scientists who did the studies. Not sure if she’s a cyclist, but she knows what she’s talking about.

So, in conclusion: Ride more if you already ride; start riding if you don’t already ride.

Picking the Proper Toothpaste is More Painful Than a Root Canal


It was 20 Years Ago Today (almost) … Here’s my More Stuff column from April 5, 1998:

If you’re anything at all like me, you brush your teeth.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Buying toothpaste.

The choices are mind boggling, and selecting the right toothpaste is more complicated than filling out your income tax forms.

Do I want one with baking soda? One with extra tartar protection? Or one that will make my smile dazzle?

And so, I called my dentist, Dr. Richard Bash (and yes, my dentist’s name really is Bash) and asked him to go toothpaste shopping with me.

“No problem, that sounds like fun,” he said.

And that’s how Rich and I came to be standing in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket.


We began with the Crest section, which offers the following choices: Sensitivity Protection, Gum Care, Tartar Protection (which comes in smooth mint gel, mint paste with baking soda, fresh mint gel and regular), Cavity Protection (mint paste with baking soda, icy mint and regular), Multi-Care (cool mint and fresh mint – as if anyone could tell the damn difference!) and Extra Whitening.

Whew. And help, which is where Rich comes in…

“The Sensitivity Protection has 5 percent potassium nitrate,” he began, taking a deep breath (which was quite minty fresh). “When you have sensitive teeth, the gums are exposed, and the potassium nitrate prevents them from getting excited … The Gum Care has stannous fluoride, which is more of an antibacterial agent than sodium fluoride (the fluoride found in most toothpastes) and prohibits the growth of bacteria that causes gum disease … The Tartar Protection has pyrophosphate. When tartar forms, it’s tenacious. And this helps prevent the formation by inhibiting the matrix formation.”

I have no idea what a matrix formation is (and the Matrix movies with Keanu didn’t start until 1999), but sure as heck don’t want any on my teeth. Not even the back ones. It’s tenacious.

“The Cavity Protection has sodium fluoride,” Rich continued. “The Multi-Care has sodium fluoride for cavities, baking soda, which helps adjust the Ph levels in your mouth and makes it inhospitable for germs, pyrophosphate for tartar control, but it doesn’t have stannous fluoride for fighting gum disease. And, the Extra Whitening has silica, a polishing agent.”

Rich let out a sigh of relief and collapsed to the floor.

But wait, there’s the Colgate section. Come on Rich, get up.

Here we go for Colgate: Total, Baking Soda & Peroxide Clean Mint, Baking Soda and Peroxide Fresh Mint, Tartar Control with Micro-Cleaning Crystals (even Rich didn’t know what these were), Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening, Regular Cavity Protection, Tartar Control Plus Whitening, Cavity Protection Gel-Winterfresh and, finally, Baking Soda-Natural Mint Flavor.

But wait, there’s still my old favorite: Aquafresh. I love the way the separate red, green and white swirl together in perfect harmony on my toothbrush. How do they do it?

And yet, after all this, I was still no closer to an answer to my all-important question: Which toothpaste should I buy?

“Steve, let me tell you a story,” Rich began. There’s no stopping Rich once he starts storytelling … and drilling. I was hoping his story would be less painful.

“One day in dental school, a teacher walked into class with a glass of water, a bar of Ivory soap and a toothbrush and proceeded to brush his teeth with them. Then he told us, ‘It doesn’t matter what toothpaste you use, as long as you brush your teeth properly.’”

“Oh no!” I shouted. “Rich, there are as many different kinds of toothbrushes as there are toothpaste. Which one do I get?”

I’ll get to this all-important question in another column.

PS: It’s 20 years later and even more confusing to select the proper toothpaste. 

Johnny Oakland: Squirrel Detective Chapter One: The Case of the Missing Nuts

“OK Phillip, we can do this the hard way or we can do it the easy way … (pause for dramatic, fear-inducing effect) … it’s up to you.”

Johnny was so darn proud of himself for coming up with his tough-guy line, and he used it every chance he got. He said it real slow, and in as deep of a voice as he could muster, which, truth be told, wasn’t an especially deep voice. Even for a squirrel.

It didn’t matter.

All the squirrels from Elm Street to Church, across Maple Avenue and over to Poplar, and even as far as Elm and Hillcrest, knew better than to mess with Johnny Oakland, the world’s greatest squirrel detective. And a well-known master of the nuggie.pexels-photo-681178.jpeg

And yet, they messed with Johnny. Time after time. After time.


Simple: Squirrels are stupid. That’s right, I’m using the stupid word. I know, it’s really mean to call any creature stupid, even cute little furry ones. But in this case, it’s just so darn true that to not call squirrels stupid would be intellectually dishonest. And an insult to smart.

FYI: Same goes for chipmunks. Maybe even more so.

And, when you combine stupid with a heaping helping of stubbornness and selfishness, especially when it comes to their nut stashes, well, you can sorta understand why so many squirrels insisted on doing it the hard way with Johnny. Their nut stash – and the quantity and quality of the nuts in their stash – is the difference between surviving and starving during a long, cold winter. Thousands of years of genetic conditioning, the whole survival-of-the-fittest squirrel thing, and the never-ending encroachment of civilization – not to mention cats – have combined to make squirrels totally obsessed with their nut stashes.

And, on top of all this, squirrels have terrible memories. Which, when you think about it, is probably connected to the stupid thing.

So, at some point during every long, cold winter, when there’s snow on the ground and it’s hard to remember where you buried your nuts or sniff them out, about 87.5 percent of all squirrels will forget where their nut stashes are buried.

It’s a recipe for disaster. And starvation. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of squirrel death, right after being run over by a car while running back and forth across the street for seemingly no good reason. More on this later.

The finding of their nut stashes is where Johnny comes in. And how he makes his living. For the most part.

Johnny is smart. Or, to be more precise, he’s a lot smarter than most squirrels. He’s not quite raccoon smart, but he’s pretty darn close. Then again, some squirrels say Johnny is part raccoon. He’s not, but he doesn’t do anything to discourage this rumor. It helps his image. And detective business.

And then, there’s Johnny’s nose. His sniffing abilities are off-the-chart amazing. He can detect an acorn buried deep within the frozen tundra from 50 paces. That’s squirrel paces, which are a lot shorter than cat, dog and human paces.


So, all of the above is how Johnny came to be sitting atop Phillip Oakington, with his sturdy squirrel legs wrapped tightly around Phillip’s arms and chest, slowly squeezing the air out of his lungs.

“Phillip, a deal is a deal. Pay up,” Johnny growled, balling up his tiny fist and rubbing it across Phillip’s forehead.

“Stop it Johnny, that hurts.”

“It’s a nuggie Phillip, it’s supposed to hurt, you idiot.”


The day before, Phillip had sent word that he needed Johnny’s professional help. And so, Johnny made the dangerous journey over to Phillip’s yard. He avoided two dogs, that nasty one-eyed cat on Hillcrest with the messed-up ear who had murdered Frank Oakman three days earlier, and safely crossed three streets to get to Phillip’s yard.

Seconds after he arrived, Johnny got to work.

He sniffed Phillip up and down, memorizing his scent. Let’s just say Phillip wasn’t the most hygienic squirrel, so Johnny had quite a pungent scent marker to work with. Johnny’s sense of smell is so magical that he could pick up trace whiffs of Phillip several inches beneath the surface of his yard. Sometimes, the scent from one of his squirrel clients was stronger than the nut scent, and sometimes it was the other way around. And often, the two combined to lead Johnny right to a well-buried nut stash.

Johnny started at the big oak tree and began walking slowly, in ever-expanding circles. He stopped several times and started digging, each time finding a few of Phillip’s hidden treasures.

Over the next two hours, Johnny sniffed out six of Phillip’s nut stashes; a total of 43 nuts.

It’s not overly dramatic to say that Johnny had just saved Phillip’s life. It was the middle of January and quite cold. At first, and for about 2.4 seconds, Phillip was grateful and totally planned to live up to his end of the bargain. And then, the whole deeply ingrained, stubborn, selfish squirrel thing kicked in.

It always did.

“I don’t know Johnny, 20 percent of my stash seems like a pretty steep price to pay. After all, I would have eventually…”

Johnny immediately pounced on top of Phillip. Experience had long ago taught him that an aggressive and preemptive strike would get his client’s attention. Most squirrels are meek and mild, and the mere threat of violence was enough to convince them to do the right thing.

And now, sitting atop the quivering, shaking Phillip, it was time for…

“OK Phillip, we can do this the hard way or the easy way … (pause for dramatic, fear-inducing effect) … it’s entirely up to you.”

Phillip thought about it for a couple seconds. While he contemplated his options, Johnny nuggied him again, hard and fast.

“OK, OK Johnny, I give. Uncle. I’ll give you your stupid 20 percent.”

Johnny loosened his grip and climbed off of Phillip, who rubbed his head and trembled the way scared squirrels tend to tremble.

“Johnny, that really hurt. You didn’t have to get so rough. I would have paid you.”

“They never learn,” Johnny mumbled as he collected his nuts.


By all rights, Johnny could have rounded up and taken nine nuts. And he could have taken any nine he wanted: the biggest, juiciest, tastiest nuts in Phillip’s stash.

“I’m letting you off easy and I’m only taking eight nuts Phillip,” Johnny said. He picked out two of the plumpest, tastiest-looking nuts, and then took three mediocre nuts and three borderline-spoiled nuts.


You see, while Johnny could come across as quite tough and nasty when he had to, deep down he’s a softy. All the other squirrels, including the idiot Phillip, know that when push came to shove and there are three feet of snow on the ground and their nut stashes were unreachable and they were losing weight and shivering and things looked bleak, Johnny would share a few nuts from his considerable – and well-hidden – stashes.

And this is why Venus Oakingham, when she found herself in more trouble than any squirrel should ever find herself in, came to see Johnny.

“Johnny, I need your help,” Venus said.