Practicing the meditative, rhythmic flow of tai chi works just as well as aerobic exercise and strength training for achieving some health benefits such as reducing waist size and improving cholesterol, new findings suggest.
Results of a randomized controlled trial published online May 31 in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that people who have a tough time with some kinds of aerobic exercise may gain similar benefits from tai chi.
The study is “very impressive,” says Bavani Nadeswaran, MD, of the University of California Irvine’s Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, who was not involved in the study.
Many people have arthritis or back pain, “and aerobic exercise can be hard on them,” she says. “The good thing about exercises like tai chi and yoga is that they are low-impact.” That means that people who can’t run or get access to a pool for swimming have a viable alternative.
The study included nearly 550 adults ages 50 and up in Hong Kong who were randomly assigned to engage in tai chi, aerobic exercise with strength training, or no exercise program for 12 weeks. All had waistlines greater than 35.4 inches for men and 31.5 inches for women.
Every doctor recommends regular aerobic exercise, since greater aerobic fitness is important for achieving better overall health. But Joslin Diabetes Center scientists now have discovered that some benefits of aerobic exercise may be dampened by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia.
These diminished gains are seen in mouse models and humans with chronic hyperglycemia that is in the “prediabetes” range, says Sarah Lessard, PhD, a Joslin assistant investigator in the section of Clinical, Behavioral and Outcomes Research and senior author on a paper in Nature Metabolism that presents the work. The study also showed that this maladaptive trait is independent of obesity and insulin levels in the blood.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that people with diabetes or chronically high levels of blood sugar struggle to improve their aerobic exercise capacity compared to people with normal blood sugar levels. “The idea behind this study was to see if we induce high blood sugar in mice, will we impair their ability to improve their aerobic fitness?” says Lessard, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The study also aimed to uncover the mechanisms that may lead to low fitness levels in people with hyperglycemia.
Researchers have developed a method to estimate cardiorespiratory fitness levels that could be applied to data captured by wearable fitness trackers during activities of daily life. This could facilitate testing for those with low exercise tolerance and may reduce the need for medically supervised fitness testing. The study is published ahead of print in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Cardiorespiratory fitness is the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to deliver enough oxygen to the muscles during physical activity. People with low cardiorespiratory fitness may have an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Testing the amount of oxygen the body uses during exercise (VO2max) can assess these risks and may also function as a preventive measure. However, people must typically exercise to exhaustion to measure VO2max, and such testing requires medical supervision and specialized equipment. In addition, it may not be safe for all who need to undergo cardiorespiratory fitness testing to exercise at maximum effort. Methods that use lower intensity exercise (submaximal) do not always provide results as accurate as maximal testing. Continue reading →
In the gift that keeps on giving department, a study of nearly half a million people has found for the first time that those with heart or blood vessel problems benefit more from having a physically active lifestyle than do healthy people without cardiovascular disease (CVD). Exercise is good and if you have heart or blood vessel problems, it is even better.
Increased physical activity reduced the risk of dying during a six-year follow-up period for people with and without CVD, but the researchers found the greatest reduction in risk was in people with CVD and this continued to reduce the more exercise they did.
The study, which is published in the European Heart Journal  today (Sunday), is also presented at the same time at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2019 together with the World Congress of Cardiology in Paris, France .
There is plenty of evidence to show that physical activity reduces the risk of dying from CVD in healthy people; there is less evidence of its effect in people with pre-existing CVD although guidelines recommend it, and, until now, no study has compared the beneficial effect of physical activity between people with and without CVD. Continue reading →
With Thanksgiving looming, this is a great time to reaffirm our resolve to exercise regularly. OR, it is the ideal time to resolve to exercise regularly in the coming year and maybe begin to address physical and weight problems that we have neglected.
Regular readers know that I have posted numerous times on the value of exercise not only for our bodies, but also for our brains. On the top of this page is IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT YOUR BRAIN.
If you click on that link you can find a page full of blog posts on the subject.
Our ancestors engaged in some serious cardio exercise just to get food. No walking down a supermarket aisle for them.
We have only about six weeks of winter left, but it it never too late to remind you that snow shoveling is dangerous business.
While I strongly support calorie burning exercises to build up your cardiovascular system and other benefits, it is important to know your limits. If you are not currently working out or don’t consider yourself to be “in condition,” please think twice before you grab that snow shovel and race out to clear the walk. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that more than 195,000 people were treated in U.S. Emergency Rooms for snow-shovel-related incidents from 1990 to 2006. This is an average of 11,500 individuals per year. Keep in mind that this information only covers folks who actually went to the ER for treatment. Plenty more stayed home and nursed their wounds ….
About 2/3 of these incidents occurred among males. Children younger than 18 made up 15.3% of the cases. Older adults (above 55 years) accounted for more than 20%. Continue reading →
Increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), new results from a recent trial led by the University of Sydney has revealed.
Regular readers know how strongly I feel about exercise benefiting the brain as much as the body. A look at my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) will fill you in. What is exciting about this study is that it focuses on weight training. Most of the exercise benefits I have read about follow cardio work. So, this is indeed new and exciting.
With 135 million people forecast to suffer from dementia in 2050, the study’s findings–published in the Journal of American Geriatrics –have implications for the type and intensity of exercise that is recommended for our growing aging population. Continue reading →
The Harvard Health Publications has a nice positive blog post on starting cycling again presumably as a senior.
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of the Harvard Health Letter, states that she loved riding as a kid, but now only rides occasionally.
“It’s fun, it’s socially oriented, and it gets you outside and exercising,” says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Plus, cycling is an aerobic activity, it’s easy on the joints, and it helps build muscle and bone. Continue reading →
With apologies to George Thorogood, whose Bad to the Bone is a true rock classic, you really don’t want to be bad to your bones.
WebMD has produced a slideshow demonstrating things we do and don’t do that damage our bones. Our bones are as strong as cast iron yet remains as light as wood. Keep in mind that our bones are not all solid. The outside is solid surrounded by a few small canals. The inside, however, looks like a honeycomb.
The way we strengthen our bones is with weight-bearing exercise and good diet choices. As a bike rider, I am very aware of this. My regular riding is super cardio exercise, but does nothing for my bones. Not long ago, Tour de France riders, started integrating weight lifting with their workouts as they were coming down with osteoporosis.
WebMD offers eleven examples in a slide show that is worth checking out.
Here are a few examples in case you don’t have time right now. Skip that next pitcher of Margaritas. “When you’re out with friends, one more round might sound like fun. But to keep bone loss in check, you should limit the amount of alcohol you drink. No more than one drink a day for women and two for men is recommended. Alcohol can interfere with how your body absorbs calcium.”
I have written a Page about the damage smoking does and it turns out smoking damages your bones, too. “When you regularly inhale cigarette smoke, your body can’t form new healthy bone tissue as easily. The longer you smoke, the worse it gets.
Smokers have a greater chance of breaks and take longer to heal. But if you quit, you can lower these risks and improve your bone health, though it might take several years.”
I am a firm believer in walking as an exercise for good health. Although I ride my bike nearly daily and love it as well as the exercise benefits I derive from it, biking is not weight-bearing exercise. Walking is. Your bones benefit from walking, so you are defending yourself from osteoporosis with every step.
We all need weight-bearing exercise as well as cardio.
“Obesity is an epidemic among youth,” says Dr. Ron Sigal of the University of Calgary’s Institute for Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. “Adolescents who are overweight are typically advised to exercise more, but there is limited evidence on what type of exercise is best in order to lose fat.”
This is interesting. I experienced a similar result when I Lost 50 pounds in 52 weeks. Also, at that point in my life, I had little understanding about cardio vs resistance exercise.
What exercise program can best fight the “epidemic” of teen obesity? According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, by combining aerobic exercise with resistance training.
The Healthy Eating Aerobic and Resistance Training in Youth (HEARTY) study, led by researchers at the University of Calgary and University of Ottawa, involved 304 overweight teens in the Ottawa/Gatineau area between the ages of 14 to 18. All were given the same four weeks of diet counseling to promote healthy eating and weight loss before being randomly placed into four groups. The first group performed resistance training involving weight machines and some free weights; the second performed only aerobic exercise on treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes; the third underwent combined aerobic and resistance training; and the last group did no exercise training.
Wandering through Pinterest, I ran across another super infographic that I wanted to share with you. Yoga is not a new subject to the blog. I wrote Why Should I Do Yoga? two years ago. One of the best reasons that yoga works for me, a bicycle rider, is that yoga is weight-bearing exercise and while bike riding is superb cardio exercise, it is not weight bearing so does not protect against osteoarthritis.
Short bursts of exercise like walking up stairs or doing yard work are excellent for warding off health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, according to an article in the Daily Mirror.
This is fascinating news to me as Chicago recently succumbed to winter with snow, ice and vicious cold weather here. Because of the weather conditions, I was unable to ride my bike outside and had to opt for the health club. The good news is that I got some welcome weight work done as opposed to just cardio on the bike. However, there was something about riding the exercise bike and pumping the rowing machine indoors that felt unsatisfying. I missed the fresh air and general sights and smells of the outdoors. So, this news about short bursts of more generalized exercise were heart healthy was music to my ears.
Maybe trips to the health club aren’t as necessary as we had thought …
NHS Choices said, “The news is based on the results of a cross-sectional study which suggested that even less than 10 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity, such as climbing stairs, ‘count’ and may be as beneficial as longer periods of exercise. Continue reading →
Just a year of modest aerobic exercise reversed normal brain shrinkage by one to two years in older adults and improved their memory function, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Besides slowing aging, exercise also increases cognition, Brain Rules reported. “The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion. From this, one might predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. That is exactly what one finds. Indeed, the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour.”
Writing in the Journal, Ann Lukits said that a growing body of evidence points to aerobic exercise as a low-cost hedge against neurocognitive decline. “In this study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure the effects of aerobic exercise on the hippocampus in 120 Americans in their late 50s to early 80s. Half the group walked three times a week for 40 minutes, aiming for their target heart rate, while the other half did yoga and toning exercises. The hippocampus in walkers increased by 2% after a year and shrank by 1.4% in controls. Both groups showed significant improvements on spatial memory tests conducted before and after the study. This could be due to taking the test repeated times, the researchers said. In the walking group, however, changes in hippocampus volume were directly related to improved memory performance, they said.” Exercise training increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. Continue reading →
As I said in About Me and elsewhere on the blog, I love to ride my bike and burn up calories, but don’t do very well on the weight work and building lean muscle mass. Usually, I get to the health club when the snow and ice comes in winter here in Chicago and I am no longer able to navigate my bicycle outdoors. But, when winter conditions start to dissolve, so does my interest in health club workouts. Weight no longer has been the rule.
I no longer think about a club visit like a kid having to eat his veggies
This year, however, I have resolved to continue to work out with weights even when I can ride my bike every day.
Tuesday is a good example. I rode 20 miles in the morning, ate, walked the dog and then went to the health club instead of going back out on the bike.
My new workout consists of five minutes on the rowing machine to get my heart started. I considered my roughly 2 hour bike ride as my cardio instead of 30 minutes on the rower.
Then I do three sets of my three ‘big muscle’ exercises. These include leg presses, lat pull downs and chest presses on a machine.
On the one hand these are the same exercises I did when I lost 50 pounds in 52 weeks. However, with my new information about senior workouts cutting down on the actual weights and increasing the reps to benefit the tendons and ligaments, I am no longer finished in 15 minutes as before.
I just did a workout and it lasted 45 minutes including the 5 on the rower.
The fact that I am still doing weight work two months after the start of winter has had an interesting side effect. I find my shirts slightly tighter and my pants a little looser. Not a bad thing.