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Women who are older but have strong legs will do better when it comes to ageing of the brain, shows a study of more than 300 twins.
Researchers at King’s College in London showed that leg strength is a good marker of whether a person is getting enough exercise. In turn these levels of exercise have a strong link to brain health.
The study, published in the journal Gerontology, suggests that exercise releases chemicals into the brain that help to boost cognitive power in the elderly. Scientists tracked the health of over 15o pairs of twins aged between 43 and 73 (at the beginning of the study). Leg power was measured at the start of the study using a specially adapted gym machine. Brain power was then assessed using computer-based tasks that tested both memory and mental processing skills.
10 years later at the end of the study, the brain tests were repeated. The twin with greater leg power (and thus an assumption of greater overall fitness) had better cognitive power than the weaker sibling, even with other lifestyle factors that might usually increase chances of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society director of research Dr Doug Brown said the study added to the growing evidence that physical activity could help look after the brain as well as the body.
“However, we still don’t fully understand how this relationship works and how we can maximise the benefit,” he said.
Lead researcher Dr Claire Steves said: “When it came to cognitive ageing, leg strength was the strongest factor that had an impact in our study.
All exercise is good for you, just about. Unless you plan to do 10 marathons back to back (this will make your knees hurt) any activity you do that elevates your heart rate and is more than sitting will bring lots of health benefits. Walking, for example has been shown to be hugely beneficial for health (physical and mental) and disease prevention.
But not all exercise is useful if you are trying to lose weight. Some exercise can actually make you fatter, if you have bought into the myth. We see this all the time; a client signs up for a yoga class. Now, we’ve nothing against yoga, it’s a great way to exercise both mind and body. But most types will not significantly increase your metabolic rate or burn enough calories to help you lose weight. So if you go to yoga and then reward yourself with a cake upon return, it may actually make you fatter.
So what is the best exercise for weight loss? Here are the big 6.
Why these won’t make you thin:
Yoga: A typical yoga session burns just 130 calories, or the same as a brisk walk. We’re not saying it’s not good for you, just not the best for fat loss.
Pilates: According to the American Council on exercise, a typical pilates class did not meet the recommendations for improving basic cardio-respiratory fitness. Even advanced pilates burned just 254 calories per hour, the same as most gentle aerobic activity. Great for core strength, posture and a stable back; not so much for fat loss.
Jogging. The slower you go, the more impact up and down on the knees. The slower you go the less energy used. Cut the time, add the speed.
Powerplate. Just useless. Standing on it vibrating hard will use the same calories as thinking about a big mac.
We don’t all have an hour to get to the gym, exercise and get back, but there is so much that you can do at home. Even with no equipment there are plenty of exercise that will challenge and improve all aspects of your fitness, from strength, bone density, cardio-vascular fitness, balance and co-ordination. Modern studies also shoe that you can get just about all the fitness and health gains from exercise in just a few minutes provided you go at a high intensity.
Here is a little 7 minute workout that anyone can do with minimal equipment (boys – 8-12kg kettlebell, girls 5-8kg). Be sure to do a 2 minute warm up first by doing some step ups, a few squats, and some arm and leg mobilisation (basically fling arms and legs around a few times!).
The 10 minute workout – try to take only 15 seconds maximum between exercises. Try to do as many repetitions as you can on each one (it has to be hard at the end to force adaptive change) and do a brief stretch when you have done 2 rounds.
1 – Push ups (beginner from the knee, advanced full)
2 – Stepping lunge – hold the kettlebell at the chest for greater difficulty.
3 – Kettlebell throw
4 – Star jumps (jumping jacks for beginners)
5 – One arm bent over row (both sides!)
6 – Squat to shoulder press, one arm
7 – Russian twist
8 – Kettlebell throws
9 – Burpees ( beginners use a step, chair or sofa to raise the hands and decrease difficulty)
Although the thought of stepping out for a run might fill you with dread, even on a sunny summer’s day, if you really think about it running is better than sex for a variety of reasons. Here are the top 10!
1 – You can choose exactly when you want to do it. Accessibility is one of the huge plus points for running. You don’t need a gym to do it, or a bedroom for that matter. And unlike sex (the sort we are talking about anyway) it’s just you, so there’s no waiting for anyone else.
2 – You can do it as often as you like. Forget getting turned down, again. With running you can do it 7 days a week, although remember that inprovement needs some recovery, so at least a day of rest per week would be a good idea.
3 – You can do it pretty much anywhere, without getting arrested. Again running wins over most other forms of exercise on availability, cetrainly including bedroom antics.
4 – You will burn more calories. The weight bearing nature of running and the sheer impact and shock of it burns more calories than almost any other form of exercise. Especially the type that you get lying down. Obviously the faster you run the more calories you will get through.
5 – You will improve bone density. As above, the weight bearing nature of running and the loads involved means that your body is forced to adapt, including maintaining strong bones.
6 – You can post photos of yourself doing it online. No-one will get upset, even your wife or husband.
7 – No-one will be shocled if you do it in a group. You can even give your car keys to someone else for safe keeping while you do it.
8 – You will get the same, or even more endorphins, putting you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Exercise, especially the higher intensity and weight bearing type, releases feel-good hormones including dopamine and endorphines.
9 – Minimal equipment needed. Unlike fifty shades of grey you don’t need stirrups, hammocks or whips. Just a good pair of trainers and off you go.
10 – It’s actually good for the knees. Forget carpet burns; running, in the vast majority of cases, will improve the strength and stability of your knees, improving connective tissue strength, the strength of supporting muscles, and balance, amongst others.
So even if you have never run before, and feel that it’s not for you, give it a go. There may even be a secret runner in there. If you are a complete beginner or feel you are too heavy for running, just step out and commit to a fast walk. Add in some very short intervals of jogging, build it from there! Remember that running is better than sex.
How quickly will I lose fitness? Just two weeks is al it takes. If you are thinking of taking a week off all activity for the summer, think again. Even this short period of being a couch potato will have a disastrous effect on your muscle tone and fitness says a new study by the University of Copenhagen.
To assess the effects of being completely lazy and sedentary, the study, published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, used knee braces to immobilise one leg of 17 young men (average age 23) and 15 older men (average age 63) for two weeks. The subjects used crutches to make sure that the immobilised leg did no activity at all. The muscle tone and strength was then measured in both groups before the study, after the two weeks off, and then again after a 6 week re-training phase.
The younger study group lost 28% of their strength in the rested leg, the older group lost 23%. For the younger group this gave the leg a biological age of 40-50, and the decline happened in a matter of days.
Although the effects of being completely sedentary, similar to the effect of, say, a torn ACL or sports injury were very marked, even the supporting leg that had not been immobilised lost strength – about 10%.
Head author of the study, Andreas Vigelso, commented that this loss would be similar to that experienced from two weeks off the gym or other structured exercise.
“We measured the whole-body activity level of the participants, and it decreased by 1/3 during the immobilisation period”.
In fact, even if you continue to use both legs for daily movement, but decrease your activity levels you may actually lose more than 10% of your strength.
“If one leg is immobilized, you tend to jump around on the other leg, which trains the leg and counteracts the loss,” said Vigelso. But if you are just being slack, then you do not get this compensatory increase in strength and fitness.
The loss of strength was also accompanied by a loss in muscle mass, but this was predominately in the younger test group, who lost 1lb of lean muscle in the rested leg. The more muscle mass you have, the more you lose in inactivity, which explains why the younger group suffered more then those in their 60s.
“If you’re fit and become injured, you’ll most likely lose more muscle mass than someone who is unfit over the same period of time.” Vigelso commented. From this the study calculated that in a real-world rest from activity, even walking, a reduction in the daily number of steps from 10,000 to 1500 per day would result in a loss of over 1/2 a pound of lean muscle mass in each leg.
How quickly can you get it back? In the 6 week re-training period the study group did cycling and interval training 3-4 times a week, but did not manage to get back to pre-test levels. Although the younger group had regained all of their lean muscle mass, they were still lower in strength. The study concluded that the nature of the training was a factor. Endurance based cycling does not encourage strength, and can actually encourage degradation of muscle fibres. So after a leg injury, although cycling or elliptical training is still a good place to start, some weight bearing strength training is vital as soon as it can be introduced.
Why is it so hard to get the gains back? The simple answer is that breaking down within the body is faster then rebuilding. In an evolutionary response, if the body does not perceive that it needs muscle mass, it will lose it. “We lose muscle mass, strength, and fitness if we are inactive to save energy — it’s an evolutionary mechanism. Your body has no reason to maintain muscle mass if it’s not needed.” said the study author. But when you begin exercising it takes more time to adapt to the new level of exercise.
So the best way to stay fit and healthy is to be consistent, without too many breaks. If you do have to take time off, then the best way to recover strength and muscle tone is through strength training, with any aerobic training being based on short sharp intervals – these will help to boost aerobic fitness quickly while not maintaining lean muscle mass.
Another study released this month shows the powers of exercise for the elderly. Just 1/2 an hour of physical activity on six days a week is likely to add 5 years to the life of elderly men, according to a new study.
The research, published in the British Journal of Sports medicine, found that elderly men who did three hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity spread over the week have a 40% lower risk of fatality than those who did not exercise. The study also found that increasing physical activity was nearly s beneficial as stopping smoking.
The team, from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences based their study on thousands of men who were born between 1923 and 1932 who were then given health checks in the 1970s when they were all in their forties. The health checks cover height, weight, blood pressure, lifestyle habits like smoking and the amount of exercise that they did. In 2000 those still alive were invited back for another round of health checks, and of these, nearly 6,000 were monitored for the next 12 years – until they reached their late seventies and eighties.
Light vs heavier exercise
Those who did little exercise over the course of the week saw little change in mortality rates – they did less than 1 hour of light physical activity. However, even just an hour of vigorous exercise done over the week showed a reduction in the risk of dying from 23% to 37%.
The more time the subjects did strenuous exercise (getting properly out of breath) the lower the risk of death seemed to be, from 36% to 49% for those doing 6 hours a week. Even the study was “observational”in its basis – only those healthier subjects that were still alive in the first place were studied – the researchers say that the differences in mortality rates for those who were active vs those who did little activity was very striking.
This also correlates with the latest research into exercise, showing that short but vigorous activity (or high intensity interval training) has far greater benefits over longer, endurance based exercise.
So if you have a father, mother, friend or relative who is in their 60s or over, encourage them to get moving and to start some interval training. It’s never too late! The ultimate solution might be some 50+ fitness with a DDW personal trainer.
Two separate studies released this week show that walking on a daily basis boosts both mental and physical well-being. As we age, walking prevents dementia, improves mental agility and slows the onset of degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also keeps the joints mobile and improves co-ordination.
A team of scientists in the US studied subjects with an average age of 80. Those who were the most mobile and who walked daily showed a much slower level of decrease in proprioception and general agility – these benefits were also present even with the onset of degenerative brain diseases that would usually effect the ability to walk.
The results show that a more active lifestyle for those over 60 can be a huge help in maintaining mobility and mental agility. It can also prevent the onset of dementia.
“Physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage” said Dr Debra Fleischman, author of the report and part of the team at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK commented “This study showed that older people who engage in daily activity equivalent to walking for an hour and a half are less likely to develop movement problems related to small areas of blood vessel damage in the brain.”
The results in the US also confirm the findings of another study published in the journal The Lancet that shows the benefits of a three-pronged approach – regular walks, healthy eating and keeping the brain active. The research, conducted by Scandinavian scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that those who did all three things performed up to 2 ½ times better in cognitive tests that counterparts who did not eat as well, did no mental agility exercises (like online puzzles) and did not walk on a daily basis.
Although other studies have shown links between healthy eating, exercise, mental exercises and cognitive decline, this is the first large random trial to show that a targeted program including these three risk factors might be able to halt or at least slow cognitive decline in older subjects.
The Moonwalk, run by the charity Walk the Walk was started 16 years ago, when just 13 women power walked the New York marathon in their bras to raise both awareness and money for breast cancer. What began as a simple one-off event has now burgeoned into a thriving multi-million pound charity. Up to date over £83 million has been raised for breast cancer causes. Interestingly enough, the charity’s founder, Nina Barough, came up with the idea to walk the marathon in a bra for charity with no former experience of either breast cancer or charity fundraising!
In 2004 Prince Charles became the patron of Walk the Walk, having been a supporter since 2000.
So, walking a half marathon..easy, right? Well, not quite. Although marathons and half marathons require both fitness and stamina, there is also a third, and perhaps more important factor; toughness. Not just a toughness of the mind, but a toughness of the knees, feet, ankles and all the other bits that you use when walking or running. Even walking any distance over 6 miles, this toughness will be needed to avoid becoming tired, achey, and sore.
Just like the fitness and stamina needed, this toughness can be built up by doing a proper training program, and just like a program for running, this is based on weekly training sessions. Overall weekly milage is important, as is the one main walk which “steps up” each week, taking you close to completing the half-marathon distance the week before the event.
Why train? Couldn’t I just go out and do it with no training? The answer to this may be yes, but with no training it’s going to hurt, be tough to finish, and won’t be nearly as enjoyable. We’re taking part girls, so we may as well do it properly, right? The training will also ensure that you don’t get injured, get fitter and of course burn at least a trillion calories in the process.
The half marathon training plan walking is 12 weeks, a standard length of time to get ready for a distance event. Don’t worry if you have missed the start, you can drop in at week 3 (10 weeks to go), 4 or even further in. There are 4 walks a week; two easy ones, a mid distance step up (the distance/time increases each week) and then your long step up.
There are 3 speeds for the program; easy, comfortable and brisk. These can be translated into:
Easy – browsing the shops
Comfortable – faster than a stroll, but not all-out – breathing a tip more than normal.
Brisk – walking with real purpose, breathing and heart rate elevated somewhat. You should still be able to chat to your walking partner, but not too much.
Don’t worry if you miss a walk or two, but try to get them all in – it will make the event so much more enjoyable. And being outside is really, really good for you. Some cross training (strength training, intervals and more conventional types of fitness) will also really help you to put in a great performance and be super proud on the day. Good luck!
By now statistics show that you may be finding it hard to keep up with that resolution. Most people’s reason for not starting an exercise regime is “I don’t have enough time”.
It’s simple really – make time – you might not think that you have enough, but really, you do. Just make exercise a priority. Try these tips on how to make time for exercise
1 – Set an appointment with yourself, put it in the diary and be sure to keep it. Imagine that you are meeting a very close friend or going to a vital business meeting. Don’t let anything else interfere with your appointment. Isn’t your health and fitness more important than these things anyway? Most of us use a smart phone calendar, so set an alarm to remind yourself of the appointment.
2 – Replace a bad habit. Most of us spend time doing things that are not really that stimulating or necessary. Facebook time and watching rubbish TV are two good examples. Work out how much time you spend on those habits and replace them with some structured exercise. At the very least promise yourself that if you are going to spend time doing something unnecessary that you will exercise at the same time.
3 – Exercise harder for less time. Numerous recent studies have shown that just a few bursts of maximal effort will have a greater benefit to both health and fitness than a long, less intense session. So try a 5 minute warm up, then sprint up the stairs 5 times, at full tilt. Session done! The next day do a 5 minute warm up and then a short circuit of bodyweight exercises – push ups, squats, jumping jacks and a plank. Repeat 3 times, workout done!
4 – Establish a routine. After just a few weeks you will have built up a habit. You should, eventually, actually want to exercise! So be sure to give it time, and then keeping up the routine will get easier.
5 – Just do it. Thinking about exercise too much can be tiring and will put you off. So don’t overthink it..that takes up time! Just start!
By Adam Atkinson
As we enter the new year here is our 2014 health and fitness review – both the good and the bad. From the uselessness of vitamin supplements to the benefits of standing up, we learned a lot in 2014.
Although generally frowned on by your GP, the fasting diet, where calories are drastically lowered for a couple of days a week, were found to have a remarkable effect on the immune system, we were told in June. In tests on both humans and mice, fasting for two days a week triggers a “regenerative switch”, making the body produce more white blood cells. These blood cells fight illnesses, so fasting could be used by the elderly or those with damaged immune systems (from chemotherapy, for example) to generate a new one. Source – The University of Southern California
Standing is a great idea if you want to have a pert bottom said a study in April by the University of Tel Aviv. When fat cells are subjected to “chronic, sustained pressure” they expand by 50%, becoming both bigger and heavier. This is what happens when we sit for prolonged periods, so try to stand and walk, even in the office, at least every 20 minutes.
Although not technically good for us, these previously “vilified” fats do not have the negative impact on health as previously thought. For nearly half a century the consensus has been that saturated fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. The NHS still advocates reducing intake to around 25g a day. But researchers at the University of Cambridge conducted a “mega-study” covering 600,000 people in 18 countries, and found that there is no “clearly supportive evidence” to support the NHS advice. The study showed that although trans fats increased a person’s likelihood of getting heart disease, saturated fats made little difference.
Many parents worry that endless hours in front of computer games is addling their childrens’ brains. But a study released by Oxford University in August showed that this worry may be misplaced. Involving 5000 children aged from 10 to 15, the research showed that those who spent up to an hour a day playing were happier, more sociable and better behaved than those who did not play computer games. Even playing for up to 3 hours a day was found to have no harmful effects (apart from the obvious effect on fitness). The study concluded that the games provided cognitive and social stimulation to a much greater extent that their TV based counterparts.
These were found to be a waste of time and money by a team at the University of Johns Hopkins in the USA. In January they declared “case closed” on a long running debate as to the effectiveness of vitamin supplements. Reviewing more than 25 studies involving 500, 000 people the University concluded that over the counter supplements had no benefits for “well nourished adults” and should not be taken for health benefits or disease prevention.
Known to be bad for us in excess for a long time, the year saw further dammning evidence for drinking. A decade-long study of 7,00 people found that boozing in middle age appeared to accelerate cognitive decline. Those that drank the equivalent of 2 ½ pints a day were found to have the verbal fluency, memory and mathematical ability of a 70 year old – when they were just 60. Moderate drinkers (1 pint a day) were unaffected.
These were given the thumbs down when research in September found that sweeteners in diet drinks can fool the metabolism, causing blood sugar levels to rise and making people overweight. There was also found to a mental factor too; those an diet drinks felt that they had more leeway in other areas of their diet and so ate more sweet treats.
Fruit juices, fizzy drinks and cordials.
The sugar in fruit juices and smoothies was labelled bad in February, when a study suggested that those who get their sugars from drinks with added sugar (as opposed to natural sources) were 1/5th more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke. British children consume 40% more added sugar that the recommended maximum, and the biggest source of thus was found to be fizzy drinks, fruit juices and cordials.
By Adam Atkinson