Category Archives: Tufts

Tufts on the benefits of walking

I have written repeatedly about the health benefits of walking. For a good rundown, check out my Page – Why you should walk more. Herewith further elucidation on the benefits of what I call ‘the Cinderella of the exercise world-‘ walking from Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter.

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Did you get your 10,000 steps today? Many people have adopted this daily walking goal to obtain the recommended amount of physical activity. The 10,000-steps-a-day number comes from the Japanese brand name of a pedometer manufactured in the 1960s, the “10,000 steps meter.” In the Fitbit era, counting daily steps remains appealing to many people as a source of motivation.

In the U.S., adults are urged to get the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. Walking is a popular way to meet those recommendations, particularly in older adults or people who are relatively physically inactive.

Although 10,000 steps is a worthy challenge, aiming for more exercise than you normally get—unless you are one of the few who regularly trains for marathons or triathlons—comes with benefits. Any amount or type of physical activity adds to your daily goal. Regularly taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking farther away from your destination, can make a measurable improvement in your health.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that the benefits of walking on longevity were equivalent whether people got their steps in one long walk, a few shorter ones, or even brief walk breaks of a few minutes—as long as the physical activity was regular.

Preserving Mobility: Among the most important benefits of walking for older adults is preserving physical mobility—the ability to walk without assistance. In 2014, a study involving Tufts researchers called Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) trial provided evidence for the benefits of physical activity in older adults at risk of immobility and disability and other associated health problems.

“This study, for the first time, showed conclusively that a regular program of physical activity can preserve independence among older men and women,” says Roger A. Fielding, PhD, director of the HNRCA Nutrition, Exercise, Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory, who led the Tufts portion of the study.

The LIFE trial was designed to test the ability of physical activity to prevent major mobility disability, defined as the inability to walk for about a quarter-mile (400 meters) within 15 minutes, without sitting and without the help of another person or walker. Use of a cane was allowed. The study involved 1,635 men and women, ages 70 to 89, at 8 universities and research centers across the country, including Tufts.

On a practical level, the walking test gauges a person’s general fitness to perform ordinary activities like shopping, household chores and travel. Not being able to pass the test is a harbinger of future immobility.

Participants were relatively sedentary at the start of the study, having reported less than 20 minutes per week of physical activity in the previous month. The volunteers were randomly assigned to either weekly health education classes with 10 minutes of gentle stretching, or to a program consisting of exercises for strength, flexibility and balance, as well as walking. Participants were told to set as their goal 30 minutes a day of walking at moderate intensity.

Over the average 2.6-year study period, participants in the exercise program were 28% less likely to develop major mobility disability, compared with the control group that just received health education. Increased regular exercise was particularly potent in participants who started the study with the lowest level of physical functioning.

“We think that one of the reasons older people lose their independence is because of some problem they have with their muscle function,” Fielding explains. “Therefore, if you can design an intervention that can help slow the rate of muscle loss or restore some of the muscle function, it may help to prevent individuals from ultimately becoming disabled. We’ve shown that pretty well with exercise.”

How Many Steps to Health? More recently, Fielding used the data from the LIFE study to pin down the amount of physical activity it takes to prevent disability in the at-risk individuals who participated in the LIFE trial. Is 30 minutes a day of walking and other exercise the required buy-in to prevent immobility?

Fielding and his colleagues reanalyzed the LIFE data to see what impact incremental “doses” of physical activity over the first two years of the trial had on physical function (based on tests of balance and leg strength) and walking speed. They found that an increase in physical activity of just over 45 minutes per week reduced the chance of mobility disability by about 70%. That’s equivalent to a single session of exercise training used in the LIFE trial.

It all adds up to this: Even people who are relatively sedentary and start late in the game can benefit from increasing physical activity. Walking is a great entry-level physical activity—simple, free and safe unless you have a balance problem or other risk factor for falling. A brisk walk, combined with a light aerobic workout and strength training, can increase the odds of staying active and independent with aging.

“Understanding the minimal dose of physical activity required to improve physical function and reduce the risk of disability may inform future public health recommendations about physical activity for older adults,” Fielding says. “A reduced risk of disability can be seen with substantially less physical activity than is currently recommended for most inactive older adults.”

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Filed under aging, Exercise, exercise benefits, successful aging, Tufts, Tufts University, walking

Weight and Alzheimer’s risk – Tufts

With both Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family, I am interested in all research on the subject.

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Tufts reported the following in its Health and Nutrition Letter.

Could a trimmer waistline in middle age help you avoid Alzheimer’s later in life? That’s the suggestion of a study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, from the National Institute on Aging. Researchers analyzed data on 1,394 participants in a long-running study of aging, followed for an average of 14 years, who regularly underwent cognitive testing. A total of 142 participants developed Alz­heimer’s disease during the study.

After adjusting for other factors, each additional point of body-mass index (BMI) at age 50 was associated with an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s of 6.7 months. “Our findings clearly indicate that higher adiposity at midlife is associated with a long-lasting effect on accelerating the clinical course of Alzheimer’s disease,” Madhav Thambisetty, MD, PhD, and colleagues concluded.

The study was not designed to prove cause and effect, however, and it’s not clear whether the association between obesity and Alzheimer’s risk might begin even earlier. It’s also true that newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients tend to weigh less than normal, not more.

To read further on the subject, please check out my Page – Important facts about your brain – (and exercise benefits).

Tony

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Are You Keeping Your Brain in Shape? Tufts

It’s fascinating how ideas tend to flow in groups. All of a sudden I seem to be reading a lot about exercise having a positive affect on the brain (one of my favorite subjects). To explore further into it, check out my Page – Important Facts About Your Brain ( and Exercise Benefits).

The latest update in Tufts University’s Health and Nutrition letter said, “Physical activity helps preserve mobility and motor skills as you age – and not just by keeping your muscles in shape. A new study suggests that activity also maintains mobility by protecting your brain. Even in people with signs of brain aging called white matter hyperintensities (WMH) associated with movement issues, being more active seemed to allow the brain to compensate.

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“Tammy Scott, PhD, a scientist at Tufts’ HNRCA Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory, says of the findings, “Although the study cannot determine causality because of its cross-sectional design, their results are consistent with a number of other studies that have shown that increased physical activity protects mobility.”

“BRAIN SPOTS AND MOBILITY: The study, published in the journal Neurology, subjected 167 people without dementia, ages 60 to 96, to a battery of tests. They had MRI scans of their brains, wore activity monitors for up to 11 full days, and underwent 11 motor-performance tests, such as grip strength, finger tapping and lower-body function. Continue reading

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Tufts University on the Value of Brief Walks vs. the Dangers of Too Much Sitting

I am now in my sixth year of writing this blog. It started out as a weight loss guide, but over the years has morphed into a full service mental and physical health project. Weight loss isn’t off the table; it is just a byproduct of keeping oneself in tiptop health.

That little bit of history was because of a recent publication from Tufts University.

Regular readers know that I am a big advocate of both walking (Check out my Page – Why You Should Walk More) and protecting against the dangers of too much sitting. (Check out my Page – Do You Know the Dangers of Too Much Sitting?)

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So I was most pleasantly surprised to run across the following from Tufts:

“Multiple studies have warned about the health risks of sitting too much. Hours spent sitting, whether at desks or in front of the television, have been linked to increased odds of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and kidney problems. But modern life can make it difficult to stay out of chairs, and alternatives such as “standing desks” don’t appeal to everyone.

“A new study may offer hope to sedentary sitters: Using data on more than 3,600 adults, researchers found that brief periods of simply walking around the room substantially reduced mortality risk among people who spent long periods sitting. As little as two minutes of gentle walking per hour was associated with a 33% lower risk compared to non-stop sitting.

“We know that exercise is good for us and yet, despite this, our society has become more sedentary than ever,” says Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, associate dean of the Tisch College and a professor in Tufts’ Friedman School, author of the “Strong Women” series of books. “We are built to move, and when our bodies move on a regular basis, they are healthy; when they don’t, when we’re largely sedentary, our bodies deteriorate.”

MEASURING MOVEMENT: In the study, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Srinivasan Beddhu, MD, of the University of Utah, and colleagues analyzed data from the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). In recent surveys, selected participants have supplemented their questionnaire answers by wearing activity monitors called accelerometers; this gives a more accurate record of a person’s movements than depending on individual recall. Most of the participants were generally healthy, although a subgroup of 383 people had chronic kidney disease.

Researchers divided participants into four groups based on minutes per hour of different levels of accelerometer activity: sedentary/sitting, low (such as standing up but not walking around much), light (such as strolling around a room or walking into another room), and moderate/vigorous (jogging or other exercise). The study then compared activity levels to records of deaths three or four years after the assessment.

ADDITIVE ACTIVITY: There was little difference in mortality between the sedentary and low-activity groups. But people who interrupted their sitting with light activity were at significantly lower mortality risk than those who were completely sedentary; this difference was even sharper among the kidney-disease subgroup (41%). As little as two minutes an hour of light activity was enough to be associated with lower risk.

“Boosting activity levels to moderate/vigorous further reduced risk, but the number of such active participants was too low to be statistically significant. Adding additional minutes of light activity, however, did make a significant difference. Getting up from your chair for two minutes or five minutes more light activity rather than sitting time, Dr. Beddhu said, could further reduce risk of premature death.

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He cautioned that the study was observational, and so can’t prove cause and effect. And Tufts’ Nelson notes that a quick break from your chair is no substitute for regular physical activity. But if you’ve been worried about the health risks of sitting too much, apparently every little bit helps.

For more advice on the benefits of stretching as well as dozens of easy-to-perform moves and stretches, order Stretching for 50+ from Tufts Health & Nutrition!

Tony

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Active Leisure Improves Heart Health – Tufts

As the saying (here in America) goes, things happen in threes. I assume that is good things as well as bad. I think of this post as the third in a series of subtle reminders on the benefits of movement, active leisure, good posture, etc. which I have posted about in the past few days. On Sunday, I posted about The Physiologic Link Between Heart Disease and a Sedentary Lifestyle, and on Saturday, the Importance of Good Posture.

Today, Active Leisure.

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It is important to remember how much our bodies need activity.

Now comes Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter discussing how active leisure improves heart health and longevity.

“How you spend your free time may affect how much life time you have to spend. While nothing beats regular exercise, a new Swedish study reports that older adults who are more active in their leisure time were less prone to cardiovascular problems and lived longer than their sedentary peers. The benefits were seen regardless of whether the seniors also engaged in vigorous exercise. Continue reading

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