Tag Archives: physical activity

Having difficulties working out? Add some fast music to it, researchers say

Sticking to a workout routine is never easy. Music, a new study concludes, can be an important ally.

Everyone has their own workout routine. Some just do it in isolation, others prefer being in a crowded room where everyone is doing their thing. Some like it loud, some prefer the quiet. For many people, music has become an integral part of working out.

It’s not hard to understand why. As the body is being pushed, the mind can easily wander off. Music can keep the mind entertained and distracted from the hard work the body is doing. That’s why you hear loud music in most gyms, and why you often see people jogging with headphones.

Previous studies have also documented that music can help distract from the fatigue and discomfort caused by exercise. However, different people see music in different ways — some like intense beats, others would prefer a soothing tune. How we perceive music is also influenced by culture, as well as personal preference. Everyone has their own preferred genres, and it’s not exactly clear what type of music (if any) works best during exercise.

A new study wanted to assess how beneficial music can be in high intensity and endurance exercise. The study analyzed the effect of the tempo of a piece of music on female volunteers who were either walking on a treadmill (endurance exercise) or using a leg press (high-intensity exercise).

The volunteers carried out two workout sessions, completing the exercise either in silence or while listening to pop music at different tempos. The researchers monitored several physical parameters of the volunteers, as well as their opinions about how hard the exercise was.

“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” explained Professor Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy. “This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”

The effects were strongest in participants listening to high-tempo music (170 – 190 bpm) while doing endurance exercises, suggesting that people performing endurance activities such as walking or running may reap the largest benefits from listening to intense music.

However, the study also features significant limitations. There were only 19 participants, not nearly enough to establish statistical relevance. In addition, all participants were young women (under 30), doing a specific type of exercise.

Nevertheless, it’s a good indication that at least in some scenarios, music might be an important aid when exercising.

In future research, the team will also investigate the effects of different types of music genres, melodies, or lyrics. Music is complex and multifaceted, and it’s not clear how all these different elements contribute to the experience that helps you when exercising.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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.

Researchers develop a pill that mimics the effects of exercising

Isn’t that great? If you’re as lazy as I am, this incredible news. Just imagine sitting on a couch all day and having rocking six-pack abs at the same time. Wow. But things aren’t that simple — well, not yet.

Via Pixabay/bosmanerwin

Scientists have been working on an “exercise pill” for quite some time. Studies conducted on mice show promising results, but FDA approval is still needed for the drug to be available to patients. Unfortunately, the FDA does not see the inability to exercise as a disease that requires treating.

Who really has the time now to exercise as much as the body needs? We’re constantly on the run, yes, but mostly metaphorically. We all know the tremendous benefits of working out on a regular basis, but let’s be honest: if we’re stuck in a stressful office environment, like a large part of the population is, where can we find the energy to work out at least half an hour each day? Or even the time? I’m not trying to make excuses for everyone. However, obesity rates are rising, and we should face the facts: our ancestors engaged in more physical activity than we do today. Our food is different as well — we mostly eat high-energy processed foods, not home cooked meals or fruits and vegetables from our own gardens.

Some would argue that lifestyle is a choice and that we are fully responsible for our health. I agree, but let’s take into the consideration that a healthy lifestyle is hard to maintain, with sugar addiction being one of our worst enemies.

Researcher Ronald Mark Evans, a biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, wanted to fight against obesity, so he and his team developed a drug that mimics the effects of exercise while eliminating the need to run a mile three times a week.

How does this pill work?

The compound, known as GW1516, or 516, essentially tricks the body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy; this typically takes longer for the body to do, as it prefers to use glucose first, then fat. The human body uses the same metabolic pathway when exercising: it preserves the sugar for the brain during periods of physical stress and signals the muscles to burn fat instead.


Ali Tavassoli, a professor at the University of Southampton, has also been studying similar effects using a drug known as compound 14.

Compound 14 changes the body’s metabolism by affecting the functionality of an enzyme called ATIC. By inhibiting this enzyme, researchers trigger a chain reaction that leads the cells’ central energy sensor to think it’s running out of sugar. In consequence, the cell’s metabolism and sugar uptake are fastened. Its developers think that if Compound 14 was successfully tested on humans, it could help substantially in the fight against obesity, which affects more than a third of the U.S.’s adult population.

“If you can bring them a small molecule that can convey the benefits of training, you can really help a lot of people,” Evans told Washington Post. 


Researchers aren’t only developing this drug for those who don’t have time to exercise; the drug’s main target is people physically incapable of working out. Helping people with muscle-wasting diseases and movement disorders, the frail, the very obese and post-surgical patients is the team’s principal priority.

Alas, FDA doesn’t recognize “the inability to exercise” as a condition. So Evans decided to make them listen: he targeted 516 young people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He thinks this approach has the best chance to get FDA approval.

“This [disease] afflicts kids who can’t exercise and ultimately die of muscle wasting, often at a relatively early age, at 15 or 16,” Evans says. “It’s a disease with a large unmet medical need.”

The drug is now undergoing a small human safety study. Evans says the compound has “a potentially wide application,” including for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, and for “people in wheelchairs.”

He also believes it could be crucial for patients who develop acute kidney injury — a potentially fatal side effect of cardio-bypass surgery that is often associated with irreversible organ damage.

“The organ or tissue changes its metabolic properties and begins to burn sugar, and because it happens quickly, it’s very hard to stop,” Evans says. “Our drug helps to draw the tissue back to a more healthy state, returning it from a chronic inflammatory damaged state. It soaks up sugar. If you do this carefully and quickly, you can override the damage response.”

Scientists admit that some problems might appear if the drug becomes available to the general population. There will be no way to control abuse. Even professional athletes might be tempted to take it in order to boost their performances. The experimental 516 already is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, according to Evans, and “I’m sure any [future] version of it will be, too.”

Evans concludes: “I like exercising, and that’s good enough for me. People are designed to move. But if they can’t, it’s not healthy to be sedentary. That’s why we are developing this drug. We are trying to take science out of the laboratory and bring it into the clinic in a way that can change people’s lives. If we can do that, it would be a game-changer.”

Inactive teens make for inactive bones

Inactive teens end up with weaker bones for life, a new study finds, highlighting the importance of physical activity during teenage years.

Researchers have confirmed what pretty much every mother has been saying since forever — if you slouch as a teenager, you’ll have bad bones.

“We found that teens who are less active had weaker bones, and bone strength is critical for preventing fractures,” said Leigh Gabel, lead author and PhD candidate in orthopedics at UBC.

Gabel and her team analyzed physical activity and bone strength in 309 teenagers, girls aged 10-14 and boys aged 12-16 — a particular period that is crucial for lifelong, healthy skeletal development. They used high-resolution 3D X-ray images to compare the bone strength in kids who got less than 30 minutes of exercise a day and in those who got the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity.

X-rays. Image credits: Nevit Dilmen.

Basically, what they found is that it doesn’t really matter what they do, as long as they do something. Whether it’s playing games or swimming or just running around, it makes a big difference. Even short bursty activities generally not considered sports help, such as dancing around the house, walking the dog, or even doing chores (sorry, kids!).

“Kids who are sitting around are not loading their bones in ways that promote bone strength,” said Gabel, which is why weight-bearing activities such as running and jumping and sports like soccer, ultimate Frisbee and basketball are important.

Also, results were similar for boys and for girls — although the bone structure of the two sexes is somewhat different in terms of bone size, density, and microarchitecture, the overall trend was similar.

Being active, in any way, as a teen is important! Image credits: Ed Yourdon.

The takeaway is pretty straightforward: we need to encourage teens to be more in their day to day life. But how? Parents and teachers can help by being a good example and limiting screen time. In most cases, browsing the internet or playing computer games takes too much time and there’s no room left for physical activity. No one is suggesting forbidding said activities, but making sure that a little bit of physical activity is fitted into their program is very important.

“We need school-and community-based approaches that make it easier for children and families to be more active,” said co-author Heather McKay, a professor in orthopedics and family practice at UBC and the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility.

“The bottom line is that children and youth need to step away from their screens and move to build the foundation for lifelong bone health,” said McKay.

Journal Reference: Leigh Gabel, Heather M Macdonald, Lindsay Nettlefold, Heather A McKay — Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Bone Strength From Childhood to Early Adulthood: A Mixed Longitudinal HR-pQCT study

Physical activity, whether or not it’s exercise, makes you happier

It’s a well-known fact that exercising has a trove of health advantages and does wonder for both your body and mind, but now researchers have found that physical activity, whether or not it’s a proper exercise, will make you happier.

Something as simple as playing football with your friends or just walking outside could make you happier. Image credits: Saifulmulia / Pixabay.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK have published results based on smartphone reports from more than 10,000 individuals. The study also details how large data sets can be acquired from smartphones. What they did is they used data from a mood tracking Android app, finding that even modest levels of physical activity improve people’s mood – regardless of their happiness baseline.

“Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” said the paper’s senior author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College. “However, our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”

When this type of study is usually conducted, researchers use much smaller samples and data sets and generally rely on participants’ recollection of the moment. This type, they could see the data as it happened, sort of “in real time” and the sample size was much higher. This is particularly useful because we don’t really keep track of how active we were during a particular day. Our recollections are most often incomplete.

“Most of us don’t keep track of all of our movements during the day,” said study co-author Dr Gillian Sandstrom from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex. “A person might track whether they went for a walk or went to the gym, but when asked, most of them probably wouldn’t remember walking from the desk to the photocopier, or from the car to the office door.”

Figure 1. Lathia et al, 2017.

Figure 1. Lathia et al, 2017.

Users reported their emotional state on a grid, based on how positive or negative, and how energetic or sleepy, they were feeling. This wouldn’t have been possible without the smartphone data, and it shows just how useful this kind of data can actually be.

“This study shows how mobile and wearable technology really can allow social psychologists to perform large longitudinal studies as well as open a direct and permanent connection with the users for advice and intervention,” said study co-author Professor Cecilia Mascolo from Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory.

Journal Reference: Lathia, N. Sandstrom, G.M., Mascolo, C., & Rentfrow, P.J. ‘Happier people live more active lives: Using smartphones to link happiness and physical activity.’ PLOS ONE (2016). http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160589