A healthy diet is associated with greater physical fitness in middle-aged adults, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1
“This study provides some of the strongest and most rigorous data thus far to support the connection that better diets may lead to higher fitness,” said study author Dr. Michael Mi of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, US. “The improvement in fitness we observed in participants with better diets was similar to the effect of taking 4,000 more steps each day.”
Cardiorespiratory fitness reflects the body’s ability to provide and use oxygen for exercise, and it integrates the health of multiple organ systems, such as the heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles. It is one of the most powerful predictors of longevity and health.2 While exercise increases cardiorespiratory fitness, it is also the case that among people who exercise the same amount, there are differences in fitness, suggesting that additional factors contribute. A nutritious diet is associated with numerous health benefits, but it has been unclear whether it is also related to fitness.
This study examined whether a healthy diet is associated with physical fitness in community-dwelling adults. The study included 2,380 individuals in the Framingham Heart Study. The average age was 54 years and 54% were women. Participants underwent a maximum effort cardiopulmonary exercise test on a cycle ergometer to measure peak VO2. This is the gold standard assessment of fitness and indicates the amount of oxygen used during the highest possible intensity exercise.
Scientists have more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving ingredient that prevents Alzheimer’s disease.
In particular, a new study from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute suggests that the lower the fitness level, the faster the deterioration of vital nerve fibers in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues characteristic of dementia patients.
“This research supports the hypothesis that improving people’s fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process,” said Dr. Kan Ding, a neurologist from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who authored the study.
The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease focused on a type of brain tissue called white matter, which is comprised of millions of bundles of nerve fibers used by neurons to communicate across the brain.
Dr. Ding’s team enrolled older patients at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease who have early signs of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The researchers determined that lower fitness levels were associated with weaker white matter, which in turn correlated with lower brain function.
Unlike previous studies that relied on study participants to assess their own fitness, the new research objectively measured cardiorespiratory fitness with a scientific formula called maximal oxygen uptake. Scientists also used brain imaging to measure the functionality of each patient’s white matter.
Patients were then given memory and other cognitive tests to measure brain function, allowing scientists to establish strong correlations between exercise, brain health, and cognition.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a simple yet crucial mandate for human health: Exercise regularly.
However, the study leaves plenty of unanswered questions about how fitness and Alzheimer’s disease are intertwined. For instance, what fitness level is needed to notably reduce the risk of dementia? Is it too late to intervene when patients begin showing symptoms?
Some of these topics are already being researched through a five-year national clinical trial led by the O’Donnell Brain Institute.
The trial, which includes six medical centers across the country, aims to determine whether regular aerobic exercise and taking specific medications to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help preserve brain function. It involves more than 600 older adults at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“Evidence suggests that what is bad for your heart is bad for your brain. We need studies like this to find out how the two are intertwined and hopefully find the right formula to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Rong Zhang of UT Southwestern, who oversees the clinical trial and is Director of the Cerebrovascular Laboratory in the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where the Dallas arm of the study is being carried out.
The research builds upon prior investigations linking healthy lifestyles to better brain function, including a 2013 study from Dr. Zhang’s team that found neuronal messages are more efficiently relayed in the brains of older adults who exercise.
In addition, other teams at the O’Donnell Brain Institute are designing tests for the early detection of patients who will develop dementia, and seeking methods to slow or stop the spread of toxic proteins associated with the disease such as beta-amyloid and tau, which are blamed for destroying certain groups of neurons in the brain.
“A lot of work remains to better understand and treat dementia,” said Dr. Ding, Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics. “But, eventually, the hope is that our studies will convince people to exercise more.
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 →
It is for many of us the onset of snow shoveling season. If you are a reader on the East Coast, where the El Nino blizzard hit a while back, please be aware that in terms of your body shoveling snow is not a totally innocent activity.
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 →
I am always happy to pass along another example of how valuable my eat less; move more; live longer mantra is in daily practice.
Researchers have uncovered one more reason to get off the couch and start exercising, especially if you’re approaching your golden years. Among people over age 70, physical fitness was found to be a much better predictor of survival than the number of traditional cardiovascular risk factors in a study being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session.
While high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking are closely linked with a person’s chance of developing heart disease, these factors are so common in older people that the total number of risk factors becomes almost meaningless for predicting future health, researchers said. The new study suggests doctors can get a better picture of older patients’ health by looking at how fit they are, rather than how many of these cardiovascular risk factors they have. Continue reading →
Active, middle-aged men able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) outcomes—including diagnoses of coronary artery disease and major events such as heart failure—during 10 years of follow-up compared with those who were able to do less than 10 push-ups during the baseline exam.
“Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting. Surprisingly, push-up capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests,” said first author Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study was published February 15, 2019 in JAMA Network Open.
Objective assessments of physical fitness are considered strong predictors of health status; however, most current tools such as treadmill tests are too expensive and time-consuming to use during routine exams. This is the first known study to report an association between push-up capacity and subsequent cardiovascular disease outcomes.
The researchers analyzed health data from 1,104 active male firefighters collected from 2000 to 2010. Their mean age was 39.6 and mean body mass index (BMI) was 28.7. Participants’ push-up capacity and submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance were measured at the start of the study, and each man subsequently completed annual physical examinations and health and medical questionnaires.
During the 10-year study period, 37 CVD-related outcomes were reported. All but one occurred in men who completed 40 or fewer pushups during the baseline exam. The researchers calculated that men able to do more than 40 push-ups had a 96% reduced risk of CVD events compared with those who were able to do less than 10 push-ups. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease events than was aerobic capacity as estimated by a submaximal treadmill exercise test.
Because the study population consisted of middle-aged, occupationally active men, the results may not be generalizable to women or to men of other ages or who are less active, note the authors.
“This study emphasizes the importance of physical fitness on health, and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters,” said senior author Stefanos Kales, professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and chief of occupational medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance.
I remember 20 years ago when I was in the working world, I definitely lived a sedentary lifestyle. Long hours at the office, a child at home and all the aspects of family life made it difficult for me to exercise a lot. Vedging out in the evening in front of the TV proved a welcome relief from daily demands. In addition, my motivation was elsewhere. Now that I am retired that has all changed, but I understand if you may be where I was back then.
Here I am riding with Gabi. Cycling is a super form of exercise for both mind and body.
Blame it on a job change, a chronic health issue, or simply a loss of motivation: whatever took you away from your regular exercise routine has led to a sedentary lifestyle. But don’t assume you can jump back into the same exercise regimen you followed when you were younger. “Your body has aged, and things have changed,” says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, clinical supervisor of rehabilitation services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Age-related physical changes aren’t always obvious. “We lose muscle mass and strength as we get older, and the muscles become less flexible and less hydrated,” says Dr. Safran-Norton. Arthritis weakens joints. And vision changes, neurological disease, joint pain, or problems inside the ear can throw off your balance. Continue reading →
Who hasn’t heard that quote? But, the reason it still exists is that its applications are very widespread and persistent. Here’s how it applies to fitness and our feeling of being fit.
Exercising and staying fit is, of course, important for living a long and healthy life. However, almost 1 in 10 premature deaths worldwide are attributed to physical inactivity, according to Medical News Today.
In the United States, around 80 percent of adults do not meet the recommended levels of exercise, despite the efforts of media, school, and workplace programs.
Although the struggle to get people moving is ongoing, over recent years, another important factor has come to the fore: our perception of our own activity levels.
Think yourself fit
Our perceived activity levels may not reflect our actual activity levels. In fact, study author Octavia Zahrt, Ph.D., says, “If you live in an area where most of your peers are really fit, you might perceive yourself as relatively inactive, even though your exercise may be sufficient.”
“Or, if you believe that only running or working out at the gym count as real exercise, you may overlook the exercise you are getting at work or at home cleaning and carrying kids around.”
A study conducted in 2007 by Dr. Alia Crum (also involved in the present research), of Stanford University in California, illustrates this surprising psychological interaction.
That study concentrated on 87 hotel room attendants working across seven hotels. Each of the participants routinely met exercise guidelines, purely through the work that they carried out each day at their respective hotel.
The researchers conducted a 20-minute intervention: in a nutshell, they informed an experimental group of workers that they were all were meeting their daily exercise needs through their physical jobs, explaining the benefits of such an active lifestyle. A control group of hotel workers were given information about recommended exercise levels but were not informed that they routinely met the required physical activity levels. Continue reading →
This week’s Time magazine has an article on why fitness trackers aren’t making us healthier. This is even as the U.S. market for wearables hits $7 billion this year.
Duh, what a shocker! The piece quotes Eric Finkelstein, a professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, who led the effort, “There’s confusion among people about a measurement tool and an intervention,” Finkelstein says. A scale counts pounds, for example, but won’t teach you how to eat less.
I have quoted the statistic in lots of posts that more than 60 percent of us are overweight and 30 percent outright obese. Time offers the following, “The U.S. has an exercise problem, with 28 percent of Americans ages 50 and over considered wholly inactive. That means 31 million adults move no more than is necessary to perform the most basic functions of daily life.”
Wow. No wonder we have a healthcare crisis. We are killing ourselves with overeating and underexercising, maybe under-moving would be more accurate.
I think this whole thing with the fitness trackers goes back to our hunger for a ‘quick fix.’ How can I drop those extra pounds in a week or two, and with minimum effort? You can’t, at least not in any healthy way.
I know that during the many years I struggled with a weight problem my mind reasoned similarly. I would work at losing the extra pounds so that I could hurry back and indulge in all my bad eating habits. Not surprisingly, my weight yo yo-ed all the time. It wasn’t until I started writing this blog that I came to understand that losing weight is a stop gap measure not a way of life. The idea is to live healthy. If you do that you don’t have to worry about extra pounds. The ones you had will have melted off and you won’t be putting on new ones.
I didn’t create this post to condemn fitness trackers. There is nothing wrong with them. I have an Apple Watch. Got it just after they came out. I love it. I can track my bike rides, stair climbing, dog walks,etc., and get a little report on how many calories I burned, how far I went, my heart rate, how long it took and more. But, the Watch is just a tool. I was doing these things before I got the Watch, I just didn’t have all the information it provides. So, I consider this fitness wearable a positive addition to my way of life. You can read How my Apple Watch promotes my good health if interested.
I have never owned or used a Fitbit or any of those other trackers, but I would imagine that they could fit into your healthy lifestyle in the same way. Just remember, as Professor Finkelstein pointed out, these fitness trackers are measurement tools not an intervention. We still have to make the decision and carry out the actions on our own. Until we adjust our mindset, no amount of neat new gadgets are going to solve our health problems.
I have written a lot of words on the benefits of living a healthy life by eating intelligently and exercising regularly. We have the opportunity to live long healthy lives with our mental abilities functioning as well as our bodies do. We need only follow a few simple rules of good health. Our bodies are organic machines that need proper care and maintenance or they will fall into disrepair just like our inorganic machines, autos, refrigerators, etc., do.
Now the Wall Street Journal illuminates another aspect of fitness. The other side of good health, namely hospitalization and surgery.
“In health care, we often bring patients into surgery without fully addressing their chronic medical conditions,” says Dr. Solomon Aronson, executive vice chair in the anesthesiology department at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. By improving their health before surgery, he says, “we can significantly diminish the risk of complications.”
The item cites a seriously overweight man who had a knee replacement in 2013, but the hardware began to come apart leaving him hobbled and in pain. The failed knee had to be removed. The patient was warned about the dangers of his being overweight. “No one had ever mentioned to me that this might be a problem…”
“The reason many patients don’t do well is because they are already deconditioned as couch potatoes, and then they get a big operation which makes them even more frail,” says Michael Englesbe, a University of Michigan transplant surgeon and associate professor who led the study and directs the Michigan Surgical and Health Optimization Program. Dr. Englesbe says that the program “empowers patients to have control over their outcome,” and recommends all patients train for elective surgery, much as they would before athletic competition.
Maybe this will be the final reminder for folks who are currently letting themselves go physically. There is always hope. It is never too late to improve your physical condition. Your body will respond to good behavior and nutrition and you can begin to flourish again on your own and before you need medical intervention. The choice is still yours.
Who said “laughter is the best medicine” first? The best I could find was that it comes from the Bible – Proverbs 17:22 – “A joyful heart is good medicine …” Also, Henry Ward Beecher said, “Mirth is God’s best medicine.”
In any event, it’s good for you as it says below.
Lord knows, he’s right.
Maybe I will do more of the Fitness Funnies now that I know this.