As things like whatever you’re reading this on have made us more sedentary, researchers have found that even low intensity physical activity has measurable health benefits, including the biggest benefit of all: a longer life.
A recently published study by an international team found that doing more physical activity – even something as simple as cooking, washing dishes or walking slowly – is linked with a lower risk of early death in middle-aged and older folks.
You may have heard or just assumed that you need to break a sweat or get your heart rate up to the point that you’re panting for exercise to really be of any benefit.
People with busy modern schedules may have a hard time fitting in all that sweating, especially when you add the time it takes to get ready and then clean yourself up afterward.
“It has previously been widely assumed that more is better in terms of physical activity for health,” said Tom Yates, a professor at the University of Leicester and a co-author of the paper, which was published in the journal BMJ. “However, this study suggests health may be optimized with just 24 minutes per day of brisk walking or other forms of moderate-intensity physical activity.”
“Another important finding was that spending 9.5 hours or more each day sedentary – which essentially means sitting – was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of death, with each hour more above this threshold increasing the risk of death further.”
Co-author Charlotte Edwardson, also from Leicester, said the study reinforces the idea that ‘doing something is better than doing nothing,’ even if it just means standing up for a bit at work.
“A large risk reduction was seen between the least and the second least active group suggesting that incorporating some time doing physical activity, light or moderate intensity, in daily life is associated with a big health benefit.”
Living a longer life could be as simple as standing up while you read things like this, so long as you’re not crossing the street.
Gadgets and their ever increasing speed have become firehoses of information. Our nervous systems are awash in bits and bytes by the trillions around the clock whether we’re online or not, awake or sleeping. In this talk, Pack will describe vital behavioral strategies we can re-learn and re-purpose to leverage and focus upon to create virtuous feedback circles.
Pack Matthews is known in Columbia, Missouri primarily as a local musician, yoga instructor and piano tuner, and has recently added the moniker “inventor” to his credentials. His passions are numerous and leave him making hard choices to avoid becoming a jack of all trades. So far he’s keeping them focused on Jazz piano and bass while devoting most of his time to his start- up, mysoulseat.com. He particularly enjoys unearthing the depth of talented people here in Columbia.
TEDxCoMo, held April 6, 2013 at the historic Missouri Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, was produced by Keith Politte and Cale Sears. Event website: TEDxCoMo.org
We learn at school that warming up before training or playing sport is vital, but cooling down is every bit as important. We are taught from childhood that warming up is a must in preparation for any exercise. It allows us to gear our muscles up for the strain we are about to place on them and prevent injury. More importantly, it steadily increases the heart rate and circulation, which loosens joints and increases blood flow to the muscles. These all help towards an effective workout.
But cooling down is as important as warming up. It prevents dizziness, helps return the heart rate back to normal and prevents chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Also known as “blood pooling”, CVI occurs when the blood in blood vessels expands during prolonged exercise, making it difficult for it to return to the heart from the legs.
According to many health and fitness instructors, the total cool-down period should last three to 10 minutes, or until you are ready to stop. Areas to target depend on which part of the body you trained. For example, if you have been working your legs, you will need to do lower body stretches or a slow walk. There are many helpful tutorials online.
The best way to measure whether you have cooled down effectively is purely based on common sense – if you feel your heart rate has reduced, that’s enough. If you wear a heart rate monitor, that will also tell you once your heart rate has returned to normal. There is no research to prove stretching after a session will help reduce soreness, but if you feel it helps, there is no harm in it, do so – it is down to personal preference.
Cooling down methods, including foam rollers, a sports massage or dry needling are worth investigating. If you experience any pain when stretching, stop, and consult your doctor or a physio if the pain is there the next day, and, more importantly, warm up more thoroughly next time.
By: Callum Nicholls
Callum Nicholls is a trainer at Third Space and Barry’s Bootcamp. Interview by Joti Birdi
No information is to be taken as medical or other health advice pertaining to any individual specific health or medical condition. You agree that use of this information is at your own risk and hold Fitness Blender harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.
In the world of health research, exercise is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees on.
Regular physical activity improves heart health, reduces your risk of cancer, keeps your bones healthy, improves mental health, and the list goes on.
But does it matter where you do your exercise? Will a gym work-out have the same health benefits as a bootcamp in a local park?
The bottom line is any exercise is better than no exercise, doctor and researcher Sandro Demaio tells ABC Life. So if exercising indoors works for you, stick with it.
“But there is some interesting evidence that running on a treadmill does not give the same mental health benefits as running outside, and it may not give you the same happy hormone boost as running outside,” Dr Demaio says.
“That makes sense because you’re not just running to improve your heart health and get the blood moving around the body and improve your fitness. You’re also outside seeing things, smelling things and getting fresh air. All those things will have an effect.”
Time in nature can boost mental health
It turns out, simply ‘being’ in a beautiful, natural environment really can benefit your mental health.
Levi Wade is a University of Newcastle PhD student studying the effects of outdoor exercise on mental health and cognition in teenagers.
“There’s a big evidence base on its effect on concentration and stress reduction. Those are the two big effects you’ll find,” Mr Wade says.
Broadly speaking, we can exert two different types of focus: hard and soft. Doing homework, checking over a spreadsheet, or crafting a pithy email all require hard focus.
Being immersed in a beautiful natural environment, on the other hand, can stimulate our soft focus. You might acknowledge the rustling of the leaves, or pay attention to the bird life.
Switching to soft focus allows your hard focus to recover: this is referred to as the restorative effect.
“If you’re walking in a forested environment or just somewhere that’s fascinating and beautiful, then a lot of the mechanism behind that effect on stress and mood is due to that environment taking your mind away from your own problems and whatever stress you are experiencing,” Mr Wade says.
“It’s just relaxing your mind because you’re not focusing on those thoughts.”
Much of the research around these benefits of outdoor exercise has been conducted on walking — specifically, walking in forested environments in Japan. It’s a popular activity there (not surprising given that 65 per cent of the country is covered in forest) and it’s termed shinrin-yoku, or “forest-bathing”.
One of the world’s leading shinrin-yoku researchers is Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, who has been conducting research on the physiological relaxation effects of nature since the early 1990s.
“The most important thing is to make use of nature that you like,” he says.
“During our research, we found that even small elements of nature that you personally like, like plant aromas, flower arrangements, potted plants, or bonsai can have a physiological relaxation effect.”
Of course, sitting next to a potted plant for halfa won’t have the same effect on your health (physical or mental) as a 5k run. But if you’re feeling overworked, then taking some time away from the city is likely to make you feel better.
Then there’s vitamin D boost
Exercising outdoors is also a great way to get your vitamin D, which you need for healthy bones, muscles and other vital body functions.
If you have fair skin you need roughly around 5–15 minutes of sun exposure a day, but this can vary depending on the time of year, and where in Australia you are.
More and more studies are showing how regular exercise benefits the brain, and in particular, the aging brain. What’s less clear is how exactly exercise counters the cognitive decline that comes with aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s.
To find out, for nearly a decade, Ozioma Okonkwo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and his colleagues have studied a unique group of middle-aged people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Through a series of studies, the team has been building knowledge about which biological processes seem to change with exercise.
Okonkwo’s latest findings show that improvements in aerobic fitness mitigated one of the physiological brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s: the slowing down of how neurons breakdown glucose. The research, which has not been published yet, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association on Aug. 9.
Okonkwo works with the 1,500 people on the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP)—all of whom are cognitively normal, but have genes that put them at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or have one or two parents who have been diagnosed with the disease, or both. In the latest study, Okonkwo recruited 23 people from the WRAP population who were not physically active. Eleven were asked to participate in an exercise regimen to improve their aerobic fitness for six months, and 12 served as the control.
All had their brains scanned to track Alzheimer’s-related brain changes including differences in how neurons metabolized glucose, since in people with Alzheimer’s glucose breakdown slows. At the end of the study period, the group that exercised more showed higher levels of glucose metabolism and performed better on cognitive-function tests compared to the controls.
“We are carrying our research full circle and beginning to demonstrate some causality,” says Okonkwo about the significance of his findings.
In their previous work, he and his team identified a series of Alzheimer’s-related biological changes that seemed to be affected by exercise by comparing, retrospectively, people who were more physically active to those who were not.
In this study, they showed that intervening with an exercise regimen could actually affect these processes. Taken together, his body of research is establishing exactly how physical activity contributes to significant changes in the biological processes that drive Alzheimer’s, and may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors such as age and genes linked to higher risk of neurodegenerative disease.
For example, in their earlier work his group confirmed that as people age, the presence of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes increases—including the buildup of amyloid, slower breakdown of glucose by brain cells, shrinking of the volume of the hippocampus (central to memory), and declines in cognitive function measured in standard recall and recognition tests.
But they found that in people who reported exercising at moderate intensity at least 150 minutes a week, as public health experts recommend, brain scans showed that these changes were significantly reduced and in some cases non-existent compared to people who were not active. “The association between age and Alzheimer’s brain changes was blunted,” says Okonkwo, “Even if [Alzheimer’s] got worse, it didn’t get worse at the same speed or rate among those who are physically active as in those who are inactive.”
In another previous study, they found the benefits of exercise in controlling Alzheimer’s processes even among those with genetic predisposition for the disease. When they divided the participants by fitness levels, based on a treadmill test and their ability to efficiently take in oxygen, they found that being fit nearly negated the effect of the deleterious gene ApoE4. “It’s a remarkable finding because it’s not something that was predicted,” says Okonkwo.
In yet another previous study, Okonkwo and his team also found that people with higher aerobic fitness showed lower amounts of white matter hyperintensities, brain changes that are signs of neuron degeneration and show up as brighter spots on MRI images (hence the name). White matter hyperintensities tend to increase in the brain with age, and are more common in people with dementia or cognitive impairment.
They form as neurons degrade and the myelin that surrounds their long-reaching arms—which helps nerves communicate with each other effectively—starts to deteriorate. In people with dementia, that process happens faster than normal, leading to an increase in white matter hyperintensities. Okonwko found that people who were more aerobically fit showed lower amounts of these hyperintensities than people who were less fit.
Given the encouraging results from his latest study of 23 people that showed intervening with exercise can change some of the Alzheimer’s-related brain changes of the disease, he plans to expand his small study to confirm the positive effect that exercise and better fitness can have in slowing the signs of Alzheimer’s. Already, his work has inspired a study launched earlier this year and funded by the National Institutes of Health that includes brain scans to track how physical activity affects biological factors like amyloid and glucose in people at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The cumulative results show that “there may be certain things we are born with, and certain things that we can’t change ]when it comes to Alzheimer’s risk], but a behavior like physical exercise might help us to modify that,” says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.
Most running training plans include cross-training sessions to increase aerobic fitness and strengthen muscles. Cross-training helps athletes run faster by increasing fitness, power and efficiency, and it’s also credited with reducing injuries and accelerating injury rehabilitation.
But if you want to really get your blood pumping and your muscles firing, try skipping.
According to the International Sports Conditioning Association, skipping can improve your speed, agility, power, endurance, balance and coordination, all of which are must-haves for running. Skipping works your calves, glutes and quads as well as your shoulders, chest, back and triceps from turning the rope.
Personal trainer and presenter Lauren Vickers calls running her meditation in motion.
“I try to incorporate running into most of my workouts,” she says.
“My knees have endured many years of high heels, so I can’t run as far as I used to, but I love incorporating some short cardio burners in my outdoor training one to two times a week, with sprints and shuttle runs in between sets.”
Vickers is a big fan of skipping as a cross-training exercise for runners and anyone wanting a physical challenge.
“Skipping seems like a simple exercise, but it can quickly become extremely challenging,” says Vickers.
“While skipping is gentle on the body, it’s high in intensity. You can really tire yourself out skipping, and consistent skipping will help to improve your strength, endurance and coordination.”
Never skip it
In fact, an Arizona University study found that a 10-minute daily program of skipping is as good as a 30-minute daily program of jogging for improvement of cardiovascular efficiency.
Other research has shown that skipping can not only reduce tension but also raise energy levels. Subjects taking part in a study at Illinois University were monitored while skipping during a 60-minute workout, five-days a week, over ten-weeks. The results included greater leg and knee strength, an increase in calf size, better jumping ability, and faster running speed. Subjects also became more agile and flexible, and their hearts became stronger.
Vickers loves skipping as a form of cross-training because it can be done anywhere. Vickers loves skipping as a form of cross-training because it can be done anywhere. Her own personal preference of rope is Unit Nine’s sweat plus pack.
“[It] includes a skipping rope, resistance bands, trigger ball and towel – making it the perfect on-the-go training kit to help me perform a skipping workout at home, the gym, work or at a hotel.”
Vickers says skipping helps runners get used to planting their feet directly underneath their body, and helps to reduce the length of time their feet touch the ground with each step.
“Skipping is a low-impact, effective way to build your running endurance and strengthen the muscles that you use while running without your joints bearing too much load. It also helps to build calf, ankle and foot strength,” adds Vickers.
Do it right
Like any other exercise, runners should warm-up for a skipping workout by getting the glutes and abdominal muscles firing. Give these three exercises a go:
Slide a short resistance band around your ankles and perform 20 crab walks forward and 20 backwards.
Place the resistance band above your knees, lie on your back with knees bent and perform 10 glute bridges.
Using a long resistance band, hold the band at tension with your arms shoulder width apart straight out in front of you. Brace your core and keeping the tension, move the band in halo motions clockwise first, then anti-clockwise for 10 repetitions in each direction.
Once warm, hop to these short skipping workouts:
Warm up for two minutes at an easy skipping pace, and then progress to five sets of interval skipping:
One minute easy pace
30 seconds sprint pace
One minute side to side skipping
30 seconds high knees skipping
Warm up for two minutes at an easy skipping pace, and then progress to eight rounds of tabata skipping:
20 seconds sprint pace
10 seconds rest
Rest for one minute and repeat the sequence one more time.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.