Tag Archives: exercise

Novel ‘megastudy’ approach finds the best incentive to keep people in the gym

Getting people to stick to a workout routine is a worthy goal — but it’s also a nebulous one. Despite great interest from policymakers to promote exercise as a way to boost public health, there is still relatively little reliable data regarding what makes people stick to their routines.

Image credits Steve Buissinne.

A new megastudy aims to address that lack of data through the use of a massive number of participants to rigorously test and compare the efficacy of multiple incentives for keeping people committed to their workouts. The study tested 54 different behavioral interventions on a large number of participants in order to determine and compare the efficacy of each.

Keep gyming

“We found that rewarding participants with a bonus of [US$0.09] for returning to the gym after a missed workout produced an estimated 0.40 more weekly gym visits per participant (a 27% increase in exercise) compared with the placebo control,” the study reports, on the most efficient incentive recorded during the trials. “Second, offering participants larger incentives, [US$1.75] produced an estimated 0.37 more weekly gym visits per participant (a 25% increase in exercise) compared with the placebo control.”

The team worked with over 61,000 gym members, all of whom were subscribed to an American fitness chain. Over a four-week period, the various encouragement programs the authors experimented with boosted gym attendance between 9% and 27%.

Due to the scale of the study, 30 scientists from 15 different US universities participated. They worked in small, independent teams, and designed a total of 54 different intervention strategies to try and boost the participants’ rates of gym attendance. Each of these was meant to last a total of four weeks and ranged from digital experiences, text reminders, weekly emails, to rewards.

Just under half of these interventions (45%) had a significant effect on increasing the weekly gym visit numbers of participants. The single most effective intervention involved offering participants a cash reward for returning to the gym after missing a workout.

That being said, however, it was surprisingly hard to change the long-term habits of the participants; only 8% of the interventions trialed in the study led to participants maintaining a measurable change in their behavior after the four-week intervention period.

Beyond helping policymakers and other figures of authority better motivate people to stick to a workout routine, the work also helps showcase the potential of megastudies in furthering our understanding of particular topics. The authors themselves note that examining multiple interventions side-by-side gave them much better context than working with each strategy individually. Even those that did not lead to a noticeable increase in user gym attendance can yield valuable data when placed in the wider setting of the study, they explain.

“The megastudy paradigm ensures that all results, including null results, are published and that insights can still be gleaned from comparing treatments across studies, as illustrated both by this megastudy and a follow-up megastudy testing the best strategies for nudging vaccination,” they write.

Such a research framework also helps address one of the main limitations of behavioral science: the need to test interventions both in the field (in real-life settings), to account for the multitude of factors shaping each of our lives, and in a controlled research setting. When examining individual methods in distinct groups, the authors explain, it becomes difficult to compare results directly with other trials; due to this, it’s not possible to test whether the differences in results come down to the interventions themselves, or to the differences among the participants.

Beyond the immediate results, the team hopes their work will help improve the accuracy of behavioral research in the future, and give us new tools to reliably study human behavior.

The paper “Megastudies improve the impact of applied behavioural science” has been published in the journal Nature.

Exercise releases cannabis-like chemicals that fight and reduce chronic inflammation

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According to a new study, vigorous physical activity triggers the human body to release endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring, lipid-based neurotransmitters. These are very similar and in some instances the same as the cannabinoids found in cannabis. These substances help reduce inflammation and could potentially treat arthritis, heart disease, and perhaps cancer as well.

Literally runner’s high

Scientists have known for some time that exercising reduces inflammation, but little is still known about how exactly this happens. British researchers at the University of Nottingham are filling the gaps with a new study that involved 78 patients with arthritis. Half of the participants had to perform 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises daily for six weeks while the other half didn’t exercise at all.

The researchers led by Professor Ana Valdes from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham found that the patients who exercised reported less pain and had more microbes in their guts that produce anti-inflammatory compounds. They also had lower levels of cytokines, which are molecules that allow your cells to talk to each other, and are crucial for healthy immune system function. Cytokines are often responsible for triggering inflammation in the body, which can be critical to our survival when the body is infected but can cause a ‘pointless’ kind of inflammation when they go overboard.

Exercise also increased the levels of endocannabinoids, which was strongly associated with the changes in the beneficial gut microbes and the anti-inflammatory substances they produce. According to the study published in the journal Gut Microbes, at least a third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbes were due to endocannabinoids.

“Our study clearly shows that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances. Which can have a positive impact on many conditions. As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” Vijay said in a statement.

Both marijuana and exercise are known to elicit a feeling of euphoria. In the case of the latter, the feeling is often referred to as a “runner’s high” and a body of evidence points to endocannabinoids as the culprit.

The role of endocannabinoids has been widely documented in modulating inflammation, muscle strength, and energy metabolism. Other studies have shown that the gut microbiome and exercise are interconnected to regulate metabolism and homeostasis, independent of diet. With this latest study, scientists have connected the dots showing how endocannabinoids and gut microbes are connected and synergistically act to reduce inflammation in the body. 

Physical exercise is a reliable and accessible way to manage anxiety disorders

Moderate and intense physical exercise can significantly dampen anxiety, even in cases where it is caused by a chronic disorder, according to new research.

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Exercise has been receiving a lot of attention from researchers interested in mental health. The positive effect physical exercise can have on those grappling with depression is well-known. However, the way it links with anxiety disorders is far less understood.

New research from the University of Gothenburg comes to improve our understanding of the interplay between these two factors. According to the findings, moderate and demanding physical exercise can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety even in the case of chronic disorders. These results give cause for hope for patients struggling with anxiety disorders around the world, offering an accessible (and healthy) option for them to self-manage what can quickly become a debilitating burden. It also reminds those who are not struggling with such disorders of the importance of keeping physically active not just for our bodies, but our minds as well.

Mens sana in corpore sano

“There was a significant intensity trend for improvement — that is, the more intensely [the participants] exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” states Malin Henriksson, doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg and the study’s first author.

The team worked with 286 persons with anxiety syndrome who were recruited from primary care services in Gothenburg and Halland County, Sweden. Their average age was 39, and 70% were women. Half of these participants had been diagnosed with anxiety syndrome for at least 10 years.

They were randomly assigned to group exercise sessions for 12 weeks, consisting of either moderate or strenuous activity. A control group was also used, and its members received advice on physical activity adhering to public health recommendations but were not placed in any of the exercise programs.

Exercise regimes consisted of one-hour training sessions three times per week with supervision from a physical therapist. They included both cardio and strength training. Each session included a warmup followed by a 45-minute training interval and a cooldown period. Intense training was defined as the participants reaching 75% of maximum heart rate during the sessions. Light and moderate exercise was defined as the participants reaching 60% of their maximum heart rate. These were confirmed using heart rate monitors.

Following the 12 week period, their anxiety symptoms were re-assessed. This revealed that their symptoms were lessened across the board, even in cases of chronic anxiety conditions. Most of the participants in the exercise groups went down from a baseline level of “high anxiety” to a “low anxiety” level following the study. Those who followed relatively low-intensity exercise regimes were 3.6 times more likely to see an improvement in their symptoms compared to controls. Those who exercised at a higher intensity were almost 5 times more likely to see improvements compared to controls.

The findings are important as this is one of the largest studies on the topic to date. They provide reliable evidence that physical exercise can be used alongside today’s standard treatments for anxiety — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic drugs — to help patients manage their symptoms. Some of the key advantages of this approach include it being accessible to the vast majority of patients and the lack of side effects, which are common with psychotropic drugs.

“Doctors in primary care need treatments that are individualized, have few side effects, and are easy to prescribe. The model involving 12 weeks of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be made available in primary health care more often for people with anxiety issues,” says Maria Åberg, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy and corresponding author of the study.

The paper “Effects of exercise on symptoms of anxiety in primary care patients: A randomized controlled trial” has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Exercise five hours a week to protect against hypertension later in life

Current public health guidelines should be updated to recommend around 5 hours of moderate exercise per week, a new paper reports. This exercise regime, especially if maintained throughout our 30s, 40s, and 50s, can prevent the onset of conditions caused by hypertension later in life.

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New research led by the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals reports that the current recommendation of two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise per week isn’t quite enough to reap maximum benefits. However, updating this to five hours per week could help reduce the risks of medical complications later on in life. More to the point, maintaining this level of physical exercise through to our 50s or older reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure — a condition that may lead to heart attack and stroke.

Running from your problems

“Results from randomized controlled trials and observational studies have shown that exercise lowers blood pressure, suggesting that it may be important to focus on exercise as a way to lower blood pressure in all adults as they approach middle age,” said senior author Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, Ph.D., of the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“Teenagers and those in their early twenties may be physically active but these patterns change with age. Our study suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood — at higher levels than previously recommended — may be particularly important.”

The study followed roughly 5,000 adults (ages 18 to 30) for 30 years, who were in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. They came from urban backgrounds in Birmingham, AL, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland, CA. The study recorded their exercise habits, medical history, alcohol intake, and smoking status. Each participant’s blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels were also monitored during this time. It was considered that a participant had hypertension if their blood pressure was 130 over 80 mmHg or higher, in line with the threshold established by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association.

Approximately half the participants were Black (51.6%) and the remainder were White. Slightly under half (45.5%) were men.

Black men were found to be the most active group in early adulthood, exercising slightly more than White men, and significantly more than Black and White women. By age 60, Black men’s physical exercise, on average, dropped to under half (from 560 exercise units to around 300 units), which is equivalent to the recommended two-and-a-half hours a week of moderate-intensity activity. Still, this was less than what White men managed to get in (approximately 430 units), slightly more than what White women achieved on average (320 units), and significantly more than what Black women managed by this age (around 200 units per week). However, Black men reported the highest rates of smoking, which may preclude physical activity over time.

Physical activity for White men declined in their twenties and thirties, stabilizing at around age 40. For White women, physical activity hovered around 380 exercise units, decreasing in their thirties, and remaining constant to age 60.

“Although Black male youth may have high engagement in sports, socio-economic factors, neighborhood environments, and work or family responsibilities may prevent continued engagement in physical activity through adulthood,” said first author Jason Nagata, MD, of the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine.

Hypertension at age 60 was diagnosed in around 80% to 90% of Black men and women, around 70% of White men, and around 50% of White women. These figures align well with the average reported exercise rates among the different groups, the team explains. Furthermore, it also aligns well with previous research which found that exercise can help lower blood pressure. The results, therefore, showcase the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle that includes at least five hours of moderate exercise per week even as we grow older.

The almost 18% of participants who maintained moderate levels of exercise for at least five hours a week during early adulthood (which is double the current recommended minimum) had an 18% lower likelihood of developing hypertension compared to those who exercised less, further supporting the team’s conclusions.

“Nearly half of our participants in young adulthood had suboptimal levels of physical activity, which was significantly associated with the onset of hypertension, indicating that we need to raise the minimum standard for physical activity,” Nagata said. “This might be especially the case after high school when opportunities for physical activity diminish as young adults transition to college, the workforce and parenthood, and leisure time is eroded.”

The paper has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and will be available online shortly.

Stock photo of a man trying to exaggeratedly open a jar of pickles.

Post-exercise hunger could thwart your efforts to lose weight

Exercise is the healthiest, most efficient way of losing those extra pounds. However, a new paper comes to show how physical activity can influence our appetite and desire to eat — and how best to manage these, if we want to lose weight.

Stock photo of a man trying to exaggeratedly open a jar of pickles.
Image credits Ryan McGuire.

Let’s face it — most of us have become a bit plump during the last year. Between the drop in physical activity as we quarantine in our homes and the comfort eating to soothe our troubled souls, it’s perfectly understandable. But most of us also harbor secret plans to shed the pounds once things quiet down.

A new paper could help us in that regard. Published by a team of researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of Nebraska (USA), it details how people can feel the need to eat more food and faster after exercising. This, in turn, can sabotage our efforts of actually slimming down, and can make us give up on it entirely.

Food for thought

“In the sports context, we have the phenomenon of people overeating after physical activity,” said Prof. Köhler, Professor of Exercise, Nutrition, and Health at the Technical University of Munich. “People want to reward themselves and their bodies for being active. So we use a hypothetical experiment to find out why people eat more after exercise compared to when they don’t exercise.”

“Based on this study, we were able to show for the first time that certain characteristics, such as the amount and ‘urgency’ with which a person wants to eat, change over the course of physical exertion. These findings help us develop new interventions to optimize weight loss through exercise.”

The trial followed a randomized crossover structure involving 41 healthy participants (23 women, 18 men) between 19 and 29 years old with an average BMI of 23.7. They were randomly assigned to either a 45-minute exercise session or a 45-minute rest period. Either was performed during the participants’ first visit to the lab. Every participant was then asked to perform the other task upon their second visit.

After this, the real experiment would begin: the team wanted to see how exercise influenced the participants’ choices in regards to the amount and timing of food intake. Before the trials, participants filled out an electronic questionnaire that assessed how hungry or satiated they felt, had them pick between foods that differed in the time of consumption (i.e. immediately or delayed by preparation, for example), how much food they felt like eating (which they did by selecting the desired portions of each food item).

These preferences were recorded both for immediate and later consumption (i.e. they were asked to predict their food preference for four hours later). Then, the participants engaged in the exercise task, which consisted of 45 minutes of aerobic exercise on a bicycle ergometer. Upon completion, they were asked to fill the same questionnaire out a second time, and a third time half an hour later. Participants in the control (rest) group went through the same procedure, but with rest instead of exercise.

All in all, the team explains, exercise led to participants choosing a greater amount of food both immediately after the exercise and 30 minutes later, as reflected in their questionnaires. It also made them pick food that would be immediately available for consumption on both questionnaires.

“The actual results suggest that physical exertion can entice those who do sport to eat larger amounts of food more quickly after the training session,” says Prof. Köhler.

“Since weight loss is a main motivation for exercising for many, and failure to achieve the desired weight loss makes it likely to quit exercising, it could be a good strategy to think about what you want to eat afterwards before you start to exercise.”

The team is currently researching which strategies work best in improving the long-term effectiveness of training programs. But until they can pinpoint the most effective approach, just know that exercising will make you want to eat, a lot, and quickly. Keeping the reins on this can make or break your efforts to lose weight.

The paper “Exercise Shifts Hypothetical Food Choices toward Greater Amounts and More Immediate Consumption” has been published in the journal Nutrients.

Exercising with your partner can help after a heart attack

Significant others can help heart attack survivors form healthy habits.

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A new paper explains that heart attack survivors have a better chance of changing unhealthy habits or to form healthy ones when their partners join their efforts. This effect was seen in programs for survivors that focused on weight reduction, physical activity, and smoking cessation. Those who took part in such programs and lived with a partner who also took up the same challenge were the most successful.

Till diet do us part

“Lifestyle improvement after a heart attack is a crucial part of preventing repeat events,” said study author Ms. Lotte Verweij, a registered nurse and PhD student, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands.

“Our study shows that when spouses join the effort to change habits, patients have a better chance of becoming healthier — particularly when it comes to losing weight.”

This paper is a follow-up study of previous research and focused on the role our significant others play in efforts to change behavior. It included 824 patients who were randomly assigned to an intervention group (lifestyle programs on top of usual care) or a control group (usual care alone). A total of 411 patients were allotted to the experimental group and referred to up to three of the programs (weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation). Their partners could join for free and were encouraged to do so by nurses. Participation was defined as attending at least one session of the program.

Nearly half (48%) of the partners joined up. Participants with a partner present were more than twice as likely to see improvements in at least one of three areas within a year. The greatest influence of partners on any of the three areas was weight loss — patients with a participating partner were 2.71 times more likely to reduce their weight compared to patients without a partner.

“Patients with partners who joined the weight loss programme lost more weight compared to patients with a partner who did not join the programme,” said Ms. Verweij.

“If partners contribute to adopting healthy habits, it could become an important recommendation to avoid recurrent heart attacks.”

She explains that because couple often have similar lifestyles, changing our habits can become hard if only one person is putting in the effort. Practical limitations like grocery shopping or emotional ones (like feeling a lack of support for our efforts) seem small but they make or break our resolve. Finding a lower effect of partners on smoking or physical activity might suggest that these are more influenced by our own motivations and persistence, although “his hypothesis needs more investigation,” she adds.

The paper “The influence of partners on lifestyle-related risk factors in patients after an acute coronary syndrome. Results from the RESPONSE-2 randomized controlled trial” has been presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020 – The Digital Experience.

Mashed potatoes are an ideal fuel for exercising, new study reports

The secret to athletic success might lie in the humble potato.

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New research from the University of Illinois found that potato puree is just as effective as commercial carbohydrate gel in maintaining blood sugar and performance levels in trained athletes. The trial focused on prolonged exercise, one of the most demanding types of physical activity.

Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew!

“Research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance,” said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Nicholas Burd, who led the research.

“Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fueling options for athletes and offset flavor fatigue.”

Potatoes are a much more cost-effective alternative to carbohydrate gels, the team explains. Furthermore, these gels tend to be very sweet and puree would offer a savory alternative. All this sounds excellent in theory, but nobody knew how well the taters actually performed — so the team set out to see how the two compare in practice.

The team worked with 12 participants who were healthy and devoted to their sport, averaging 165 miles (267 kilometers) per week on their bicycles. The researchers wanted their participants to be representative of athletes; so all the participants have been cycling for years and had to pass a test to qualify for the trials (a 120-minute cycling challenge followed by a time trial).

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group only consumed water during the experiment (control group), the second was given a commercially available carbohydrate gel, and the third an equivalent amount of carbohydrates from potatoes. The team standardized what the participants ate for 24 hours before the experiment to limit outside influences.

Throughout the exercise, the participants’ blood glucose, core body temperature, exercise intensity, gastric emptying, and gastrointestinal symptoms were recorded. The researchers also measured concentrations of lactate, a metabolic marker of intense exercise, in their blood.

“We found no differences between the performance of cyclists who got their carbohydrates by ingesting potatoes or gels at recommended amounts of about 60 grams per hour during the experiments,” Burd said. “Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.”

Both carbohydrate groups showed almost the same increase in plasma glucose levels and heart rates, different from the water-only group. They also had better results on the trials.

One difference between the two groups, however, is that those who ate potatoes reported significantly more gastrointestinal (GI) bloating, pain, and flatulence than the other groups. The authors note that they had to eat a larger volume of potatoes to match the glucose content of the gels, which produced these results.

“Nevertheless, average GI symptoms were lower than previous studies, indicating that both (carbohydrate) conditions were well-tolerated by the majority of the study’s cyclists,” the researchers wrote.

“All in all, our study is a proof-of-concept showing that athletes may use whole-food sources of carbohydrates as an alternative to commercial products to diversify race-fueling menus,” Burd said.

The paper “Potato ingestion is as effective as carbohydrate gels to support prolonged cycling performance” has been published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Exercising with a coach might be good for fighting depression

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Study after study has shown that exercising is a fantastic way to improve one’s mood and depression symptoms. When you’re already depressed, however, it can be a challenge to leave the house, let alone clock 5k on a treadmill. Here’s an idea, though: a new study suggests that hiring a coach renders better results than training alone in terms of improving depression outcomes.

You don’t have to do this alone

For their study, researchers at Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, enlisted 17 women with major depressive disorder (MDD).

Each participant had to complete two, 30-minute exercise sessions on a stationary bike. One session was performed at the participants’ own preferred intensity, while the other session was supervised by a coach which gave directions when to push harder and when take it more easy.

The researchers led by Jacob Meyer, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, drew blood samples immediately after each exercise session. They also measured mood and anxiety at 10 minutes and 30 minutes after the workouts.

The blood tests enabled the researchers to analyze changes in endocannabinoid levels — self-produced psychoactive compounds typically found in marijuana. It’s endocannabinoids like anandamide, which is present at high levels in people’s blood after vigorous exercise, that is thought to be responsible for the “runner’s high”: a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain.

These tests showed that endocannabinoids spiked particularly high in the participants who were coached on how far to push themselves, as opposed to those who pedaled at their own pace. Both groups self-reported improved mood, however, the coached women felt better than those who had no guidance.

“Finding alternatives to medication is important for the treatment of depression,” Meyer said. “If we can figure out how exercise works with the endocannabinoid system, we could then design optimal exercise interventions.”

For Meyer, the results, which were published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, were somewhat surprising. These differences, he explains, may arise from variations in the preferred session.

In 2016, he and colleagues studied the association between exercise and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates neuron growth and survival. In people with depression, BDNF levels are lower. The study found that when women with MDD were asked to perform a different exercise routine of the same intensity with the one they previously selected, they had higher BDNF levels following the prescribed session.

“Having someone else prescribe the exercise could be involved in both the psychological and biological response to exercise,” Meyer said.

Pictured: Jacob Meyer. Credit: Christopher Gannon.

Having a coach or personal trainer facilitate your exercise routine is thus something worth considering for those battling depression. Not only is the coach able to push you harder, he or she can also keep you accountable so you’re less likely to skip the gym.

If these findings inspire you to seek out a personal trainer, here are some tips:

  • Interview thoroughly. You’re paying someone for their services, so you might as well pick a person who is the best fit to help you with your goals. Ask them about how they helped previous clients who were in the same situation as you or what’s their strategy for customized training giving your mental health goals.
  • Choose a certified trainer. The world is full of so-called coaches and personal trainers. If you’ve never set foot in a gym, it can be difficult to ascertain a person’s skills. This is why it’s a good idea to look for someone who’s a certified trainer or coach, such as a person who’s prepared for the NASM CPT exam.
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘No!’. Depression can a harrowing experience in and of itself, nevermind having some person scream at you ‘Just one more!’ It’s okay to say ‘not this time’ and set clear boundaries if you feel you’ve had enough. Your goal is to improve your mood after a workout and look forward to going to the gym, not graduate bootcamp.
  • Don’t book too many sessions upfront. You’ll be spending quite some time with your trainer, and just like any relationship it may or may not work well. Like in dating, it’s wise not to invest too much time and energy in a person if the investment is not reciprocated. Book just a couple of sessions with a trainer to feel the waters, then continue if all goes well or find a different trainer who’s more suited to your needs and personality.

Remember, even if you don’t have someone to supervise your training, exercising by yourself at any intensity can still improve the depressed mood state.

Cannabis makes exercise more enjoyable and may aid recovery

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In most people’s minds, cannabis and exercise don’t really go hand in hand. Marijuana use is (often deservingly) associated with a lack of motivation and the propensity to lounge on a couch, which is why it seems common sense to stay away from it if a person wants to shift away from a sedentary lifestyle. At the same time, most people who try to exercise fail miserably because they find it unenjoyable. But, according to a new study, many cannabis users say they use the drug as a workout enhancer, citing that it makes exercising more enjoyable and helps recovery.

The authors from the University of Colorado were the first to collect empirical data on attitudes and behaviors regarding cannabis use and exercise among current cannabis users. Angela Bryan and colleagues surveyed 605 cannabis users living in states where marijuana is legal and found that 81.7% of the respondents used marijuana before and after a workout.

The researchers asked the participants who endorsed cannabis use concurrent with exercising to rate how much they agreed with a series of statements on a 7-point scale (1 means strongly disagree and 7 means strongly agree).

According to the findings reported in Frontiers in Public Health, “the majority (70.7%) agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis increases enjoyment of exercise, 19.3% were neutral, and 10.0% disagreed or disagreed strongly. The majority (77.6%) also agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis enhances recovery from exercise, while 16.3% were neutral and 6.1% disagreed or disagreed strongly.”

“In contrast, just over half (51.8%) agreed or agreed strongly that cannabis increases motivation to exercise, 26.5% were neutral, and 21.6% disagreed or disagreed strongly. Finally, a minority (37.5%) agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis enhances exercise performance, while almost half (46.0%) were neutral and 16.5% disagreed or disagreed strongly.”

Fewer than 50% of US adults meet the minimum recommendations set out by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) which advise at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week. However, people who combined marijuana and exercise fair far better, achieving 159.7 minutes per week on average. Among those who didn’t combine the exercise and marijuana, the average amount of physical activity was only 103.5 minutes.

But whether or not marijuana actually enhances performance is still debatable. This was simply an observational study based on self-reported data, suggesting that co-users perceive these benefits. A systematic review of 15 published studies that investigated the effects of THC in association with exercise protocols found that none showed any improvement in aerobic performance. On the other hand, cannabis use is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of its potential to improve sports performance.

“We found that the majority of participants who endorsed using cannabis concurrently with exercise reported that doing so at least somewhat enhances recovery from and enjoyment of exercise, while approximately half reported that it at least somewhat increases motivation, and a minority reported that it enhances performance. These findings supported our hypothesis that co-users may be co-using because they believe it contributes to recovery after exercise. The findings also suggest that co-use may facilitate enjoyment of exercise, and (for a subset of co-users) motivation to exercise,” the authors wrote.


Credit: Pixabay.

Even light physical activity like housework might keep the brain young

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

There’s a huge body of evidence that suggests exercising invigorates not only the body but also the mind. A new study, however, suggests that even very light physical activity such as housework can have a meaningful impact on a person’s mental health. According to the findings, even a couple minutes of light exertion per day was linked to larger brain volume, equivalent to approximately 1.1 years less brain aging.

Housekeeping, brainkeeping

Studies suggest that most adults lose about 0.2% of their brain’s volume every year after the age of 60, making them more vulnerable to dementia. According to recent research, physical activity can mitigate the risk of dementia, however, the specific activity levels for optimal dementia prevention are unclear. At the moment, US guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercising per week — something which most older adults are unable to meet, primarily due to health issues.

Researchers at Boston University wanted to zoom in quantitatively on physical activity to see just how little physical activity is required for effects to show. They analyzed the data from the Framingham Heart Study, which involved 2,354 participants who used activity trackers. This allowed the researchers to assess the total steps walked per day by a participant, which was then associated with brain volumes determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Those who took at least 10,000 steps a day had a 0.35% greater brain volume than those who took fewer than 5,000 steps a day, which is equivalent to preventing 1.75 years of brain aging. A little over half of the participants didn’t meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. However, among this group people, incremental light physical activity was associated with higher brain volume —  each additional hour of light-intensity physical activity was associated with approximately 1.1 years less brain aging.

That doesn’t mean that people who don’t break a sweat are safe. Moderate to vigorous exercising has been associated with longevity and a better quality of life in older age, and this is something that all people should strive for. It’s just that if your health doesn’t currently allow, every bit of exercising seems to help, even if the exertion is relatively light.

“Every additional hour of light-intensity PA was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current PA guidelines. These data are consistent with the notion that the potential benefits of PA on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or duration,” the researchers concluded.

Previously, researchers found that just half an hour of exercise is enough to promote neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to reshape itself. Another study found that regular exercising reduces the risk of dementia by 40%. 

The findings appeared in the journal Jama Network Open.

Dogs really help people stay fit, new study shows

As if dogs weren’t precious enough, they also help with our fitness — new research shows that dog owners are 400% more likely to meet recommended physical activity guidelines.

Dog owners were found to walk their dogs for a median 7.0 times per week (range 0–32), covering a median total of 220.0mins per week.

The fact that dog owners tend to do more exercise shouldn’t really surprise anyone — whether you like it or not, you have to go walk the dog. However, previous research mostly focused on a single household member, and it’s not exactly clear whether time spent dog walking replaces other physical activity. In the latest study, researchers analyzed just what kind of a difference having a dog really makes — fitness-wise.

Carri Westgarth and colleagues from the University of Liverpool assessed the self-reported physical activity of 385 households in the, UK (191 dog owning adults, 455 non-dog owning adults and 46 children). Researchers also tracked 28 adults with an accelerometer, to have a confirmation for the total physical activity.

They found that dog owners walk more frequently and for longer periods than non-dog owners — and this activity doesn’t replace other physical activities. In other words, it’s simply extra physical activity. Researchers were able to confirm the health-enhancing potential of dog ownership.

“Evidence suggests dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death, and a lower risk of cardiovascular conditions at least in single-person households, where the participant may be more highly obligated to dog walk,” the study reads.

For many people, this could be the difference between healthy and unhealthy levels of exercise. Researchers recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. However, less than 50% of adults in the USA actually achieve this. England fares a bit better, but still, only 66% of men and 58% of women achieve this bare minimum goal. This study found that dog owners were four times more likely to achieve this goal. Furthermore, the benefits extend to all household members involved in dog-walking.

The results are so positive that researchers actually call for policy to support more dog ownership, considering the health benefits associated with it.

“Dog ownership is associated with more recreational walking and considerably greater odds of meeting physical activity guidelines. Policies regarding public spaces and housing should support dog ownership due to physical activity benefts,” the team writes.

So if you’re struggling to lose weight or be physically active, there’s a woofing solution to that.

The study “Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog: An investigation of the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels in a UK community” has been published in Scientific Reports.


Large breasts discourage women from exercising, study finds

The larger the breast size, the less likely women are to engage in physical activity because of the discomfort. There are ways to reduce this discomfort, but the matter isn’t really talked about.

Image in public domain.

We all know that working out is good for you, and yet the vast majority of people rarely or ever work out. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important reasons is discomfort. Working out can be inherently difficult (especially when you’re unfit) and any additional discomfort can tip the scales against working out.

In addition to a number of diseases and conditions, there’s another factor which can cause workout discomfort: breasts.

Breasts are essentially unsupported and unstabilized tissue. Breasts can be quite heavy and wobbly during running and exercising, causing discomfort and even pain. As women all around the world can attest (and studies have confirmed), when women run braless, their breasts oscillate up and down as well as sideways, which often causes pain. A 2013 London Marathon questionnaire found that more than a third of women (including runners with small breasts) often experience soreness in their breasts. Another study found that breast pain is common during exercise, occurring in more than half of all women. This pain is mainly associated with the movement of breast tissue.

In order to check whether this discomfort can prevent women from working out, a team of researchers recruited 355 generally healthy women of ages 18 to 75. They asked the participants questions about how and when they exercised and if the breasts interfered with their exercise and willingness to exercise. They also directly measured their breasts (as bra sizes are notoriously unreliable), and categorized them as small, medium, large or very large.

The results showed a very clear trend: regardless of their overall Body Mass Index (BMI), women with larger breasts were more likely to feel that their breasts were interfering with exercise. This was important because naturally, women with higher BMI’s tend to have larger breasts — but this was not the underlying cause. The breasts themselves are producing discomfort.

Participants with large breasts also participated in less vigorous-intensity physical activity compared to participants with small and with medium breasts.

“Breast size should be acknowledged as a potential barrier to women participating in physical activity,” researchers conclude.

It’s a fairly small sample size and results should be replicated with a larger cohort, but the study paints a pretty compelling picture and presents a clear trend.

There’s also a positive side to this story: sports bras, which offer support and stability, can reduce discomfort. By making women more aware of this issue and the potential ways to address this, matters can be improved.

For instance, women with very large breasts might need to use two bras simultaneously to gain enough support. Some physical activities (like swimming) also produce much less discomfort, and women with large breasts should be encouraged to focus on these activities.

Surprisingly many women are also wearing the wrong bra size, which could further accentuate the problem. Lead author Celeste Coltman, now an assistant professor at the University of Canberra in Australia Coltman and her collaborators, Julie Steele and Deirdre McGhee, have also developed a free app to help active women assess their breast size and bra needs.

Men also have their own anatomical woes when it comes to exercising. Bicycles can cause genital soreness and pain, and the occasional rampant ball can also cause a lot of genital pain — but that doesn’t reduce men’s willingness to exercise.

The study “Does breast size affect how women participate in physical activity?” has been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2018.09.226


Happiness exercises could help those recovering from substance abuse

Short, text-based infusions of happiness could help with recovery from substance abuse, a new study reports.


Image via Pixabay.

Brief, text-based, self-administered…it doesn’t sound like a very good fix for substance addiction. But a new study from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute says such exercises can help adults recovering from substance use disorders by significantly increasing their in-the-moment happiness.

The study is the first of its kind to test whether positive psychology exercises boost happiness in persons recovering from substance use.

Write it out

“Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life,” says lead author Bettina B. Hoeppner, PhD, senior research scientist at the Recovery Research Institute.

“Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment for those with substance use disorders.”

Using a randomized online survey, the team assigned 500 adults — who had reported current or previous problematic substance abuse —  one of five short, text-based exercises. These took on average four minutes to complete. The exercises were meant to give each participant an injection of happiness and see how it would help them cope.

Participants reported the greatest gains in happiness after completing an exercise called “Reliving Happy Moments,” in which they selected one of their own photos that captured a happy moment and entered text describing what was happening in the picture. Another exercise called “Savoring”, in which participants described two positive experiences they noticed and appreciated during the preceding day was the close second, followed by “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” in which they listed a highlight and a challenge of the preceding day and something pleasurable they anticipated the following day.

One of the exercises, “3 Hard Things” — in which participants were asked to write about challenges they had faced during the preceding day — led to a significant decrease in happiness.

The authors explain that feelings of happiness are a key component of lasting, long-term recovery.

They write that they recommend these positive psychology exercises for substance abuse therapy due to their ease of use and their effectiveness in this study.

“These findings underscore the importance of offsetting the challenges of recovery with positive experiences,” says Hoeppner, an associate professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“Recovery is hard, and for the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”

The paper “Do self-administered positive psychology exercises work in persons in recovery from problematic substance use? An online randomized survey” has been published online in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

Want to keep a young heart? Try exercising 4-5 times a week

Exercising at least 4 times a week is necessary for maintaining a young heart, a new study concludes.

That exercising helps keep us healthy should be a secret to no one. But how much you should exercise — that’s a different problem. In a new study, authors carried out an examination of 102 people over 60 years old, with a consistently-logged, lifelong exercise history. Researchers also gathered detailed measures of arterial stiffness from all participants — a key index of arterial health. Based on the results, participants were split into the following groups:

  • Sedentary: less than 2 exercise sessions/week;
  • Casual Exercisers: 2-3 exercise sessions per week;
  • Committed Exercisers: 4-5 exercise sessions/week; and
  • Masters Athletes: 6-7 exercise sessions per week.

They found that exercising 2-3 times a week helps keep the middle-sized arteries young. Notably, these are the arteries which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck. However, in addition to this, people who exercised 4 times per week or more also kept their main arteries healthy — the arteries which provide blood to the chest and abdomen.

So the conclusion is that even a couple of weekly workouts is good, but if you really want to keep your heart going, you should probably push it to about 4 or 5 a week.

The good thing about this study is that it could be an important step towards developing exercise strategies to slow down such aging.

“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programmes to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels,”  says Benjamin Levine, one of the authors of the study.

“Previous work by our group has shown that waiting until 70 is too late to reverse a heart’s ageing, as it is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training. Our current work is focussing on two years of training in middle aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the ageing of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time”.

There are still significant drawbacks of this study. For starters, 102 people is not the largest sample size you can ask for. Secondly, even though the data was very thorough, it didn’t include any information about the intensity and duration of the workout, which could have significant vascular consequences.

However, while researchers still aren’t sure exactly how much exercise is enough, even a bit is better than nothing. So if you want to maintain a healthy and young body, you’d best start working.

Journal Reference: Shibata, S et. al. The Effect of Lifelong Exercise Frequency on Arterial Stiffness. JPhysiol. 21 May 2018. doi: 10.1113/JP275301

Harar Old Man.

Proper hydration helps seniors get the full benefit of exercise and keeps their minds limber

When your hairs start turning gray, the water bottle should be your mainstay — at least while exercising. New research shows that middle-aged and older adults should drink more water to gain the full benefits of exercise.

Harar Old Man.

Image credits Gustavo Jeronimo / Wikimedia.

Few things will ruin your workout quite like dehydration. Even if you power through and keep to your routine despite the cottonmouth, you won’t benefit that much from it: dehydration has been shown to impair exercise performance and brain function in young people. However, the effect of dehydration during exercise for older individuals was poorly studied, and thus poorly understood, as there are some key metabolic differences between these age groups.

“Middle-age and older adults often display a blunted thirst perception, which places them at risk for dehydration and subsequently may reduce the cognitive health-related benefits of exercise,” the authors wrote.

Age slows down our metabolic rate, meaning we need fewer calories. Coupled with the fact that we generally tend not be as physically active as we age, elderly people tend to experience a decrease in appetite too. By eating less food, they get less hydration from solid food sources — humans generally get about half their daily water requirement from solid foods, as well fruit and vegetable juices.

To get a better understanding of how this impacts the health benefits of exercise, the New England-based team of researchers recruited recreational cyclists who took part in a large cycling event on a warm day (78-86°F or 25.5-30°C). The participants’ average age was 55.

The cyclists were asked to go through a “trail-making” executive function test: they had to connect numbered dots on a piece of paper, being graded both on their speed and accuracy. Executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. They include the ability to plan, focus, remember, and multitask. Exercise has been shown to improve intellectual health, including executive function.

The team also tested the volunteers’ urine before they exercised, and divided them into two groups based on the results — either in the ‘normal hydration’ or the ‘dehydrated’ groups.

Those in the normal hydration group showed a noticeable improvement in completion speed of the trail-making test after cycling (relative to their initial results). The dehydrated group also completed the task more quickly after cycling, but the difference in completion times wasn’t significant, the researchers noted.

“This suggests that older adults should adopt adequate drinking behaviors to reduce cognitive fatigue and potentially enhance the cognitive benefits of regular exercise participation,” the researchers wrote.

The paper “Dehydration impairs executive function task in middle-age and older adults following endurance exercise” was presented on Sunday, April 22, at the American Physiological Society (APS) annual meeting Experimental Biology 2018 in San Diego.

Credit: Pixabay.

Myth busted: strenuous exercise does not suppress immune system

Many so-called health gurus or experts have perpetuated the notion that strenuous exercise weakens the immune system. A new study has debunked this myth, showing that endurance sports can actually boost the immune system.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

The widespread belief that endurance sports increase the risk of infection can be traced back to a small study carried out in the 1980s at the Los Angeles Marathon. Researchers had asked athletes competing in the marathon whether they had any symptoms of infection in the days and weeks after the race and because many did, the notion that this happens across the board simply stuck.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Bath have reinterpreted the findings of the 1980s study based on the fundamental principles of immunology and exercise physiology. The authors explain that challenging exercise such as running a marathon changes the behavior of immune cells in two distinct ways. Initially, during the physically intensive act, the number of immune cells in the bloodstream can skyrocket up to 10 times their normal amount — this is especially the case for ‘natural killer cells’, which directly tackle infections. After the exercise, however, some immune cells decrease substantially in the bloodstream, sometimes falling below the pre-exercise baseline. This effect can last for several hours.

This fall in immune cells was previously interpreted as the body’s immune-suppression response to strenuous exercise. The British researchers, however, stress that this does not mean that the cells have been ‘lost’ or ‘destroyed’, but rather that they’ve moved to other more vulnerable sites of the body where infections are most common, such as the lungs.

According to Dr. John Campbell from the University of Bath’s Department for Health, there are three pieces of evidence to indicate that the immune cells are not actually destroyed. The first and most obvious reason is that the cells return to normal levels within several hours, which far too quickly for them to be replaced by new cells. Secondly, previous studies showed that it is not only possible but also natural for cells to leave the bloodstream and travel to other sites in the body. Lastly, studies on mice where immune cells were tagged and labeled showed that, following exercise, these tagged cells accumulated in the lungs, as well as other places that are susceptible to infections.

 “It is increasingly clear that changes happening to your immune system after a strenuous bout of exercise do not leave your body immune-suppressed. In fact, evidence now suggests that your immune system is boosted after exercise – for example, we know that exercise can improve your immune response to a flu jab,” Campbell said.

Co-author, Dr James Turner added, “Given the important role exercise has for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes, the findings from our analysis emphasise that people should not be put off exercise for fear that it will dampen their immune system. Clearly, the benefits of exercise, including endurance sports, outweigh any negative effects which people may perceive.”

The authors stress that while a heavy duty workout itself will not increase the likelihood of catching an infection, it’s possible that other factors involved in the act of exercising might. For instance, attending a sports event where large crowds of people gather can expose people to airborne infections. Other factors, like eating an inadequate diet, getting cold and wet, and psychological stress, have all been linked to a greater chance of developing infections.

The findings appeared in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

Researchers at Max Planck developed a new fitness technology called Jymmin makes us less sensitive to pain. Credit: Max Planck Institute For Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Jymmin combines working out with music, makes people feel less pain

Good news for all of us! Whether or not you’re enjoying exercising, scientists have developed new technology that makes working out more enjoyable than ever. The new study also found that it makes us more resistant to pain.

Researchers at Max Planck developed a new fitness technology called Jymmin makes us less sensitive to pain. Credit: Max Planck Institute For Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Researchers at Max Planck developed a new fitness technology called Jymmin that makes us less sensitive to pain. Credit: Max Planck Institute For Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Researchers at Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) developed a new way of working out: they altered fitness machines to produce musical sounds during use. Scientists discovered that this novel approach, which they call Jymmin, increases pain threshold and makes people less sensitive to discomfort.

“We found that Jymmin increases the pain threshold. On average, participants were able to tolerate ten percent more pain from just ten minutes of exercise on our Jymmin machines, some of them even up to fifty percent”, said Thomas Fritz, head of research group Music Evoked Brain Plasticity at MPI CBS, in a press statement.

How do these machines work?

Scientists paired music composition software with sensors attached to the fitness machines. While exercising, the sensors captured and then transmitted signals to the software, which played back an accompaniment from each fitness machine. Basically, the researchers modified steppers and abdominal trainers to become our own musical instruments, so you can get really creative while working out.

Researchers discovered that, after Jymmin, participants were able to immerse their arms in ice water of 1°C (33.8°F) for five seconds longer compared to a conventional exercise session.

Scientists believe that the pain resistance experienced by the participants is due to the increased release of endorphins. Apparently, if music composition and physical activity are combined, endorphins are flushed into our systems in a more efficient way.

Researchers divided all 22 participants according to how they rated pain and discovered that participants with the highest pain threshold benefitted the most from this training method. Maybe this happens because these participants already release endorphins more effectively in comparison to those who are more pain sensitive.

“There are several possible applications for Jymmin that can be derived from these findings. Patients simply reach their pain threshold later,” Fritz added.

Jymmin could do wonders in treating chronic or acute pain. It could also be used as support in rehabilitation clinics by enabling more efficient training.

Scientists tested top swimmers in South Korea and the results were remarkable: athletes who warmed up using Jymmin machines were faster than those using conventional methods. In a pilot test, five of six athletes swam faster than in previous runs.

Previous studies showed that Jymmin has many positive effects on our well-being. They revealed that personal mood and motivation improved, and even the music produced while Jymmin was perceived as pleasant.

Scientific reference: Thomas H. Fritz, Daniel L. Bowling, Oliver Contier, Joshua Grant, Lydia Schneider, Annette Lederer, Felicia Höer, Eric Busch, Arno Villringer. Musical Agency during Physical Exercise Decreases PainFrontiers in Psychology, 2018; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02312.

Drinking two glasses of wine a day, keeps premature death away

A long-term research, known as The 90+ Study, revealed some interesting statistics about longevity. Scientists were surprised to learn that the risk of premature death is lowered by 18% if you consume alcohol in low quantities (around 2 glasses of beer or wine per day). Meanwhile, exercising 15 to 45 minutes daily reduces the risk of early death by 11%.

Via Pixabay/Goyaines

This data seems a bit odd when looking at other studies which portray alcohol as carcinogenic.

“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” said neurologist Claudia Kawas from the University of California, that initiated the study in 2003.

Since then, Kawas has been studying a group of over 1,600 people over the age of 90. Scientists paid visits to the participants biannually. They performed various tests, such as cognitive, neuropsychological and physical ones. Researchers also collected data on the participant’s medical history, hobbies, diet, and daily activities.

Another curious discovery was that people who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people. The team found that 90-year-olds who were a bit overweight, but not obese, had their chances of premature death lowered by 3 percent.

“It’s not bad to be skinny when you’re young but it’s very bad to be skinny when you’re old,” stated Kawas.

Other findings on longevity showed that people who spent about two hours daily on a hobby lowered their risk of premature death by 21 percent. Meanwhile, subjects who drank two cups of coffee each day saw the risk fall by 10 percent.

“These people are inspiring — they drink wine, drink coffee, gain weight, but they exercise and use their brains. Maybe that can tell us something,” Kawas added.

Other major findings discovered by the team are:

  • Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80% are disabled. Both are more common in women than men.
  • About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.
  • People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s dementia but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains.

So, who is to tell that we can’t live our lives in a fun way? Perhaps the people who lived to be 90 were more relaxed than the ones who didn’t. Maybe this counts more than imposing restrictions upon ourselves. Maybe we should pay more attention to our desires, engaging more in our hobbies, and relax every night with a glass or two of wine. It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? I, for one, think I will subscribe to these simple ‘rules’ of living. Will you?

Physical exercise is more important for health than weight, study reports

Overweight doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. New research shows that physical exercise can negate, even overcome, the negative health impact of weight even for the severely obese, even if you don’t lose weight.

Waist measure.

Image credits Michal Jarmoluk.

A new study led by Jennifer Kuk, associate professor at York University, found that individuals with severe obesity who partake in exercise and are fit have a health profile comparable to those who weigh significantly less. The research looked at the benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness for heart and circulatory system health in populations with mild to severe obesity.

The findings suggest that even individuals with a BMI over 40 (which is considered to be severely obese) can be fit and healthy, provided they engage in exercise.

“Obesity is only related with worse health in individuals who were unfit,” says Kuk. “We know that once you get beyond a BMI of 40, the risk of cardiovascular conditions increases exponentially so this study shows that having a high fitness level is still beneficial and it really reinforces the importance of fitness.”

She says that following physical activity guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week, generally only translates to half a pound of weight loss. However, despite the modest reduction in weight, this amount of exercise did translate to significant improvements in the health of those with severe obesity.

The team worked with 853 Canadian patients from the Wharton Medical weight management clinics in Southern Ontario. The participants underwent a clinical exam that included measurements of fasting blood sugar levels and maximal treadmill stress tests, which the team used as a baseline. The researchers compared these initial measurements to later ones taken during the weight management program to establish the effect of exercise on their overall health.

It took surprisingly little exercise (in the form of cardiovascular fitness) for the team to find meaningful improvements in the health of participants. Specifically, all those who avoided lagging behind in the lowest 20% fitness bracket (4 in 5 participants) were in good enough physical shape to see health improvements, the authors report.

“You really have to disconnect the body weight from the importance of fitness,” Kuk adds. “You can get fit without losing weight and have health benefits.”

Some 41% of the mildly obese participants had high fitness levels by the end of the programme, while 25% and 11% of participants with moderate and severe obesity respectively, had high fitness levels. Participants with severe obesity were more likely to have high blood pressure, as well as high glucose and triglyceride levels if they were in the lowest 20% fitness level bracket. However, they were not more likely to have these issues if they were in the top 80% fitness level bracket.

All in all, the results show that physical activity is much more important for the general health of people with severe obesity but, despite what that glam magazine might tell you, you don’t have to lose weight to be healthy — all you need to do is exercise and stay fit. And you can take heart in the fact that previous research has shown that you need much less physical activity to gain health benefits than to shed pounds.

So if all you want to do is to stay healthy, weight is a far less important factor than exercise. If your waistline is the bottom line, you’ll have to put in a few extra hours at the gym.


Exercising in a group rather than alone is a great way to handle stress, researchers reveal

Working out in a group can improve your quality of life and lower stress significantly, compared to exercising individually, a new paper reports.


Image via Pixabay.

Exercising as part of a group could prove to have some meaningful advantages over flying solo, according to researchers from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. They found that individuals usually put more effort in the task but see no significant changes in their self-perceived stress levels and only limited improvements in quality of life compared to those who work out in groups.

“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on this study.

“The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”

Dr Yorks and her team recruited 69 medical students at the college for the study. Medical students are a group known for handling high levels of stress and who usually reports low to very low quality of life. The students were allowed to select following a twelve-week exercise program either within a group setting or individually. A control group was also set up, and its members were asked to abstain from any exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.

Every four weeks, participants had to complete a survey in which they rated their levels of perceived stress and mental, physical, and emotional quality of life.

Those who opted for group exercise spent 30 minutes at least once a week in a core strengthening and functional fitness training program called CXWORX. By the end of the experiment, their mean monthly scores showed significant improvements in all three categories (12.6% for mental, 24.8% for physical, and 26% for emotional wellbeing).

Individual fitness participants, in contrast, were allowed to keep any exercise schedule they liked and could opt from a wide range of activities such as running and weight lifting — but they had to always work out alone or with no more than two partners. On average, their surveys showed that they work out twice as long as the other group, but saw no significant change in anything except mental quality of life (11% increase). The control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.

“Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” said Dr. Yorks.

“Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”

But you don’t have to be a med student to feel the bite of stress — so if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, gather up a few of your friends and hit the gym. It could be just the quality of life boost you need!

The paper “Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students” has been published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.