why to exercise

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Why To Exercise Today, Moms: For The Kids, Of Course

mikebaird/flickr

mikebaird/flickr

My 11-year-old daughter recently asked if she could take a hot yoga class with me. My first reaction was negative: it’s too hot, it’s not “fun” and it’s one of the few things I do that’s truly mine — 90 minutes in which I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs.

Of course, I said yes. And I’m glad I did. She made it through class, and was totally into it (though she wished there’d been more “tricks” and less pose-holding).

“That was great, Mom,” she said afterwards. “When’s the next class?” And whether she becomes a yoga fan or not, I consider those 90 minutes to be a small gift: another way for me to show her how strong and able a body can be, and how good it feels. It doesn’t much matter if it’s yoga or running or swimming or playing ultimate frisbee — our kids are clearly taking their physical activity cues from us.

A new study out of the U.K. confirms this: researchers report that physical activity levels in mothers and their pre-school kids are directly associated. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that interventions to promote more physical activity among mothers (who, understandably, are often exhausted, harried and not great at fitting exercise into busy, kid-filled days) might also benefit their young children.

Here’s some of NPR’s report on the study of 554 mothers and their kids:

Mothers’ increased physical activity boosted children’s moderate and vigorous activity overall…

It’s not entirely clear whether it’s the mother’s activity that influences her child’s, or if mothers are more active because they’re busy keeping up with a playful child, says Esther van Sluijs, a behavioral epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and the study’s lead author.

But busy mothers don’t have to drop all other priorities to play with their children all day. Van Sluijs says just small changes – walking to the park instead of driving or playing a good game of tag instead of a board game – can make a difference. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: For Women, Svelte Aging Without Disability — And It’s Not Sitting

DSCN7346

This winter is a struggle. We’re awash in excuses not to get outside and move freely, and exercise seems secondary to just getting through the day. Yesterday, when it started raining ice, for instance, didn’t you just want to wrap up in layers with a hot cup of sweet tea? But, of course, that’s precisely what you shouldn’t do.

Two recent reports re-emphasize everything you already know, but with added detail: fitness (and that involves weight, nutrition, exercise and overcoming a sedentary lifestyle) matters.

Why? Well, here are some of the specifics (that are not actually about exercise per se, but related to it): for women, staying at a healthy weight and avoiding obesity can truly allow you to age (past 85, even) without disability.

Here’s Paula Span in The New York Times on “Weight Gain and Older Women“:

When the researchers looked at the impact that obesity or being overweight — calculated by body mass index — took on the women’s health, “we found that women with a healthy body weight had a greater chance of living to 85 without developing a chronic disease or a mobility disability,” Dr. Rillamas-Sun said. “The heavier you are, the worse your chances of healthy survival.”

And in another blow to the reclining life, researchers at Northwestern report that “every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled.”

This is less a “why to exercise” finding than a “why not to sit” finding. Still, my point is that the more you’re jogging (or doing water aerobics, or yoga, or shoveling when necessary) the less you’re sitting.

Here’s how the Northwestern news release sums things up: “If there are two 65-year-old women, one sedentary for 12 hours a day and another sedentary for 13 hours a day, the second one is 50 percent more likely to be disabled.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Preserve Your Brain, Avoid Dementia

Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

It’s raw and miserable out, with snow on the way: a perfect day for a long, sit-down lunch, or just hunkering down to work at home with a laptop, a warm cocoa and a soft couch. Right? No, no and absolutely no.

A new study that followed men in South Wales for 35 years puts numbers on what now should be obvious to us all: exercise is one of the most powerful tools you possess to help prevent dementia and cognitive decline in older age. So get up now and go sweat.

To me, the most eye-popping finding here is that by following a fairly simple health regimen, the chances of a “disease-free” life as you age increase dramatically:

Researchers report that people who consistently stuck to four or five “healthy behaviors” (regular exercise, no-smoking, a low bodyweight, a healthy diet and low alcohol intake) “experienced a 60 percent decline in dementia and cognitive decline – with exercise being the strongest mitigating factor – as well as 70 percent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none.”

More from the news release:

“The size of reduction in the instance of disease owing to these simple healthy steps has really amazed us and is of enormous importance in an aging population,” said Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. “What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health – healthy behaviours have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.

“Taking up and following a healthy lifestyle is however the responsibility of the individual him or herself. Sadly, the evidence from this study shows that very few people follow a fully healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, our findings reveal that while the number of people who smoke has gone down since the study started, the number of people leading a fully healthy lifestyle has not changed,” he added.

Recent surveys indicate that less than one per cent of people in Wales follow a completely healthy lifestyle, based on the five recommended behaviours, and that five per cent of the population follow none of the healthy behaviours; roughly equating to a city with a population the size of Swansea (240,000).

Professor Elwood continued: “If the men had been urged to adopt just one additional healthy behaviour at the start of the study 35 years ago, and if only half of them complied, then during the ensuing 35 years there would have been a 13 per cent reduction in dementia, a 12 per cent drop in diabetes, six per cent less vascular disease and a five per cent reduction in deaths.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: It’s As Good As (Or Better Than) Drugs

In my house, there’s a little sticker over the sink that says: “Exercise before showering!”

exercisebeforeshowering

We don’t always abide by that, but we always aspire to it.

And here’s yet another rational analysis to back us up: new research published in the BMJ concludes that physical activity looks to be as effective as many drugs for patients with existing heart disease or stroke.

Exercise, say the study authors, “should be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside, drug therapy.”

From the paper:

Although limited in quantity, existing randomised trial evidence on exercise interventions suggests that exercise and many drug interventions are often potentially similar in terms of their mortality benefits in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, rehabilitation after stroke, treatment of heart failure, and prevention of diabetes.

runner with inhaler (Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)

(Matthew Kenwrick/Flickr)

Here’s more from the BMJ news release:

Physical activity has well documented health benefits, yet in the UK, only 14% of adults exercise regularly, with roughly one third of adults in England meeting recommended levels of physical activity. In contrast, prescription drug rates continue to skyrocket, sharply rising to an average of 17.7 prescriptions for every person in England in 2010, compared with 11.2 in 2000.

But there is very little evidence on how exercise compares with drugs in reducing the risk of death for common diseases.

So researchers based at the London School of Economics, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute at Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine set out to compare the effectiveness of exercise versus drugs on mortality across four conditions (secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, rehabilitation of stroke, treatment of heart failure and prevention of diabetes).

Secondary prevention refers to treating patients with existing disease before it causes significant illness.

They analysed the results of 305 randomised controlled trials involving 339,274 individuals and found no statistically detectable differences between exercise and drug interventions for secondary prevention of heart disease Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: For Diabetics, A Lower Risk Of Early Death

(o5com/flickr)

Why go take a run/walk/weight-training class today? It’s gorgeous out, everyone can stop complaining about the humidity and, if you’re diabetic, a new study suggests that more exercise may keep you alive longer.

HealthDay News reports:

People with diabetes who boost their level of physical activity can reduce their risk of premature death…

And a separate study found that weight training alone may reduce the risk of developing diabetes in the first place.

The first study, which involved nearly 6,000 people with diabetes, found that those who were moderately physically active had the lowest risk of death.

Leisure-time physical activity — such as biking, gardening and housework as well as walking — was also associated with lower risk of death, found researcher Diewertje Sluik of the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrucke, and colleagues.

In the other study, which included more than 32,000 men, researchers found weight training alone — without aerobics — can help prevent type 2 diabetes, possibly by increasing muscle mass and improving insulin sensitivity.
However, a combination of weight training and aerobic exercise provided the most preventive benefit. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: A Revitalized Brain

Well-exercised mice were found to have re-energized brain cells

Here’s a great motivating piece by Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times today looking at a brain study involving exercising versus sedentary mice.

For eight weeks, a group of mice were placed on a treadmill to run, while their control-group colleagues lounged around. After two months, both sets of mice were made to run on the treadmill, and, not surprisingly, the runners far outpaced the slackers on endurance. But, the story says:

More interesting, though, was what was happening inside their brain cells. When the scientists examined tissue samples from different portions of the exercised animals’ brains, they found markers of upwelling mitochondrial development in all of the tissues. Some parts of their brains showed more activity than others, but in each of the samples, the brain cells held newborn mitochondria.

There was no comparable activity in brain cells from the sedentary mice.

This is the first report to show that, in mice at least, two months of exercise training “is sufficient stimulus to increase mitochondrial biogenesis,” Dr. Davis and his co-authors write in the study.

And even cooler is the kicker:

Best of all, the effort required to round your brain cells into shape is not daunting. A 30-minute jog, Dr. Davis says, is probably a good human equivalent of the workout that the mice completed.

Why To Exercise Today: Boosting Your Blood Supply

Canadian researchers from McMaster University report that vigorous exercise (ok, it’s mice, but still…) can trigger stem cells to become bone, rather than fat, which in turn boosts overall health by enhancing the body’s ability to make blood.

From the press release:

Using treadmill-conditioned mice, a team led by the Department of Kinesiology’s Gianni Parise has shown that aerobic exercise triggers those cells to become bone more often than fat.

The exercising mice ran less than an hour, three times a week, enough time to have a significant impact on their blood production, says Parise, an associate professor.

In sedentary mice, the same stem cells were more likely to become fat, impairing blood production in the marrow cavities of bones. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Youth And Shiny Fur

Can exercise actually alter the course of aging?

I must thank my mother here.

At a month shy of 75, she has no chronic illnesses, takes no medications regularly and exercises consistently. Sure, her aggressive tennis game has mellowed, and she’s not the driven athlete she was back in early 70s, when, as a single mom, she awoke at dawn, drove to a park in Red Hook, Brooklyn and jogged around a track with a group of women wearing Keds and tight Danskin shirts in lieu of running bras.

But she showed me early on how vigorous exercise throughout life can thwart depression and preserve at least a bit of youth as time marches uncontrollably forward.

So it gave me a lift dwelling on this morning’s “most viewed” story in The New York Times: Gretchen Reynolds on how exercise can actually alter the course of aging (ok, it’s in mice, but still…)

In addition to keeping a strain of mice from becoming prematurely gray, Reynolds reports that “exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.”

At 8 months, when their sedentary lab mates were bald, frail and dying, the running rats remained youthful. They had full pelts of dark fur, no salt-and-pepper shadings. They also had maintained almost all of their muscle mass and brain volume. Their gonads were normal, as were their hearts. They could balance on narrow rods, the showoffs.

But perhaps most remarkable, although they still harbored the mutation that should have affected mitochondrial repair, they had more mitochondria over all and far fewer with mutations than the sedentary mice had. At 1 year, none of the exercising mice had died of natural causes. (Some were sacrificed to compare their cellular health to that of the unexercised mice, all of whom were, by that age, dead.)

Why To Exercise Today: Because You Really, Really Don’t Want To

It’s freezing. The ground is icy. Your kids are home — again. On a day like today (or tomorrow) you don’t even need an excuse not to exercise: it’s expected that normal routines will be upended and the focus will be more on surviving, than thriving.

But think, won’t it feel that much better to do even a little something today? Half a mile on the treadmill, 10 minutes of jumping rope in the living room, or jogging up and down the office stairs a few times? Eighty percent of success is just showing up, as Woody Allen says, and that’s the kind of attitude that will help you get over the hump of a zero-motivation day like today.

I experienced this on the last snow day. Every hour was pre-determined: a baking project with the children, trudging to the library, digging out the car, trying to squeeze a little work in. My normal daily exercise window kept getting pushed back further and further until it was 8 pm, bedtime. And I never exercise at night, my energy level just can’t handle it.

But instead of just crashing, I grabbed an old episode of Mad Men, ventured down into the basement and walked on the treadmill for 20 minutes at a leisurely pace. Usually I run pretty hard, but this was different. It wasn’t the I-hate-this-but-I’ll-struggle-through-it kind of thing. It was actually pleasurable, like a tiny sanctuary — found time on a day devoted to helping everyone else. By 9 pm I was lingering under the hot shower, ready to finish Mad Men, and drift into an easy, guiltless sleep, while the snow blanketed the streets of East Cambridge.

Why To Exercise Today: A Calmer Colon

Exercise can improve the diarrhea, cramps and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

For the 15 percent of Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, here’s a choice: cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, or a little exercise. Seems like a no brainer.

Reuters Health today reports on a study of 102 adults that finds regular exercise can improve the annoying and sometimes painful gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the disorder.

After three months, 43 percent of the exercisers showed a “clinically significant” improvement in their symptoms — meaning it was making a difference in their daily lives. That compared with a quarter of the participants who maintained their normal lifestyle.

For people who are currently less-than-active, even a moderate increase in exercise may curb irritable bowel symptoms, according to senior researcher Dr. Riadh Sadik, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In an email, Sadik said the researchers had told those in the exercise group to get 20 to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise — like brisk walking or biking — on three to five days out of the week.

That’s a level that is generally safe and achievable, Sadik said. On top of that, the researcher added, “it will also improve your general health.”