Extreme exercise has its limits

stick_figure_running_icon_1600_wht_3621And recent research at the City University in New York found that people only need to do a moderate amount of exercise before they hit a “sweet spot” beyond which extra effort will not burn off more calories.

Going the extra mile, working out until you’re worn out, will not help you lose weight. What seems to happen is that the body takes calories away from other processes such as keeping your reproductive system ticking over and diverts them into your exercise. An earlier study on healthy women showed that when they did more physical exercise their bodies cut back on producing oestrogen, a sex hormone.

With two in three Brits are forecast to be overweight by 2030, much of the present thinking about preventing that is for people to take more exercise and eat less. However this research shows that humans are like other animals in only needing a limited amount of exercise to reach their maximum capacity for burning calories.

Dr Pontzer, who led the research said “You should exercise for a whole variety of health reasons but it won’t necessarily help you lose weight. Beyond a moderate level of exercise it doesn’t matter any more. Moderate activity is walking to work, taking the stairs, you’re going out to exercise a few times a week. You don’t have to be hardcore but you do have to get out and do some exercise

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That roll of fat round your waistline could shorten your life

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853Having a roll of fat round your waist, even if you are thin elsewhere, doubles the risk of an early death compared to people who are obese.

Having fat distributed around your body is actually healthier than just having it round your middle according to a major study of 15,000 people over 15 years carried out by the Mayo clinic in Minnesota.

It doesn’t matter what your bmi is, if you you are “centrally obese” you are more likely to die earlier. If you are a man you are twice as likely to die early.

Central obesity is defined as having a wider waist (measured at the narrowest point) than hips (measured around the widest point of the buttocks) for men and for women having a waist larger than 90% of their hip measurement.

Why should this be? Even Professor Fransisco Lopez-Jiminez, the director of preventive cardiology at the clinic isn’t sure but there are several theories.

  • Having fat outside the abdomen is a good thing as it might have some protective effects entirely opposite to bad fats.
  • People with an abnormal central distribution of fat often have less muscle mass elsewhere which means they are less able to use sugar in useful ways.
  • People who put down fat may be more likely to have a type of fat called “visceral fat” which clumps round the organs. Professor Jimmy Bell from the University of Westminster thought that could be crucial as “over the longterm visceral fat leads to sustained chronic systemic inflammation … believed to have a detrimental effect on many levels – the heart, metabolism, and even cognition

Professor Bell, who wasn’t involved in the study, thought the research was useful in understanding some of the apparent anomalies in obesity research. “We know from our research that there are different body types where people do not fit into the standard bmi. They might have the right bmi but the wrong fat distribution.”

Professor Lopez-Jiminez also said that more research is needed because “we don’t really know what makes fat go to those areas of the body in some people while in others it might go to the right place”.

Earlier research on women‘s body shape found links between bmi, body shape and dementia.

And height:waist ratio has been strongly recommended as an alternative to the bmi which doesn’t take into account muscle weight.

Main source: The Times

A brisk walk beats the gym any day

stick_figure_flexing_1600_wht_2005Walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week, can lower your bmi by one unit more than average if you are male and by 1.8 units if you are female. And that’s just over a four week period.

Participating in sport also helps but with less improvement for both sexes.

A quarter of British adults are obese i.e. they have a bmi of over 30, and 80%of us are failing to meet the government’s guidelines on exercise with the subsequent impact on NHS services.

In the research walking was compared with cycling, swimming, dancing, jogging, football, rugby, as well as going to the gym, doing heavy housework and shopping and heavy gardening including tree felling.

How do you know what moderate intensity exercise is? You can talk but not sing the words to a song.

  • Don’t exercise immediately after a heavy meal.
  • Gradually build up your pace.
  • Drink water if you’re exercising for more than 30 minutes
  • The NHS recommends topping up walking with two days of strength exercises that work the major muscles.

Check out your local fitness trainers such as Quality for Life fitness

British women die younger

doctor_shows_the_way_to_a_woman_1600_wht_8489compared to women in almost every other country in Western Europe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to introduce sugar taxes and raise the price of alcohol as it believes Europeans are the “world champions” of unhealthy living.

British women have the second lowest life expectancy of the 15 western EU countries. 

From the age of 30 to 74 British women have higher death rates than the european average. We have not reduced our alcohol consumption as much as other countries and 63% of UK adults are overweight compared to a european average of 57%.

A baby girl can expect to live to 82.7 in this country with only Denmark worse at 82.1. Spanish women have the longest life expectancy at 85.5 years. But overeating and drinking risk children living shorter lives than their parents.

“there are so many factors, lifestyle but also access to healthcare, early screening and detection of disease, prevention of disease” that could explain the gap said a WHO spokesperson.

Europe as a whole drinks and smokes more than any other part of the world and only America is fatter. (Although England is slightly better than its european neighbours in that regard)

And within England there are variations of up to seven years in women’s life expectancy. “Healthy behaviours, whatever your age, and effective care and support can help people have longer, healthier lives than ever before. There’s only so much medical technology can do“.

Tougher action is needed on the price of cigarettes, alcohol, and unhealthy foods but the government has so far rejected calls for this from health leaders.

Middle-aged advised to get to bed more

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121They need the sleep apparently. It’s the best medicine for middle aged people as research shows that lack of sleep is linked to ill-health including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Lack of sleep is blamed on shift work, and night shifts in particular, and the use of smart phones and laptops in bed. Working on a computer at or shortly before bedtime is particularly bad for you as your melatonin levels are reduced. Melatonin is a hormone that indices sleepiness.

Research at Surrey University has shown that more than 700 genes – including those linked to immunity and inflammation – are altered when your sleep is reduced to less than six hours a day.

Middle-aged people are believed to particularly at risk because of increased work and family demands.

However Professor Jim Horne who established the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University is not convinced that there would be benefits from a campaign targeting sleep as planned  by Public Health England.

He thinks it’s the quality not quantity of sleep that’s important and doesn’t believe that there is convincing evidence that we’re getting less sleep than our forefathers.

If you’ve already stopped smoking, are taking more exercise and cut down on the booze then getting more sleep is something else you can try.

UPDATE September 12 2015

The wrong amount of sleep can make you ill. Sleeping too much i.e. more than 9 hours a night, or too little i.e. fewer than 5 hours a night, can increase the deposits of calcium which clog up the coronary artery.

Women are at a greater risk of getting a lesion in this artery as a result of poor sleep than men.

The scientists who carried out the research on 29,000 people in South Korea, found that seven hours sleep was the optimal amount. “Inadequate sleep is a common problem and a likely source of poor health including visible signs of disease such as heart attack”

People who slept for more than 9 hours had 70% more calcium in their coronary artery than those who slept 7 hours. People who slept for less than 5 hours had 50% more.

The changes might be the result of the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, throwing the body’s biochemistry out of balance.

Protect your memory

head_outline_puzzle_1600_wht_10307Apparently we are experiencing an epidemic of premature memory loss. Scientists are now saying our memory begins to fade at 45 years of age rather than at 60 as was previously believed.

Unfortunately failing mid-life memory – the occasional slips which are referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – could also be an early symptom of senile dementia. This brain disease is now striking people 10 years earlier than it did 20 years ago and is regularly being diagnosed in people in their 40s.

Half of those diagnosed with MCI go on to develop senile dementia. But half don’t so what makes the difference?

There seems to be no simple explanations. Some experts have blamed environmental pollution including exhaust fumes and pesticides. Others have blamed an over-reliance on technology, junk food and our lifestyles generally.

More people are referring themselves to doctors about memory problems. The vast majority suffer from what psychologists have called “security protection overload”. They feel overwhelmed by the numbers, codes and operating systems they need to know to function in a hi-tech environment.

Who hasn’t experienced ‘PIN amnesia’? It happened to me today as I used a credit card I don’t use very often. All my cards have different PINs which I remember pretty much all the time. The stress of getting it wrong and worrying about three strikes and out is enough to interfere with memory recall anyway.

People are using their memory less as they store information on their smartphones. And we’ve seen what happens when people over-rely on sat-navs and end up in a river. The brain is like  a muscle. Use it or lose it!

We have to keep active and our brains active by doing new and different things. Keeping the blood flowing to our brains and making new connections through imagination and planning.

For those of us with middle-aged brains the upside is that we are generally calmer, less neurotic, better in social situations, wiser, and more contented. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental abilities of thousands of adults over the past 50 years, has found that middle-aged adults perform better on 4 out of 6 cognitive tests than they did as young adults.

And while middle-aged people can perform tests as well as young people in conditions of silence they are more distracted than them in noisy environments. This might also explain the “doorway amnesia” where we move from one room to another and forget why we are there. The movement breaks our concentration as we are distracted by new stimuli in the new room.

Forgetting is a healthy brain function. You don’t want your brain cluttered up by irrelevant information about previous events when you need to remember something today. People who can’t forget – it’s called hypermythesia – get confused.

Healthy brains allow us to recall information when we need it. The problem is that we don’t always retrieve it efficiently. Our library of information becomes less efficiently managed as we get older.

This post is based on an article in the Times Body and Soul segment which also suggests the following ways to protect your memory.

Walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Regular exercise provides the brain with oxygen and nutrients.

Eat vegetables and nuts. We know mediterranean diets are good for us . Now nutritionists at Rush University Chicago have developed the MIND diet, a specially formulated brain-protecting diet.

Give up transfats. Found in burgers, biscuits and cakes. Designed to increase the shelf-life of food but not people.

Eat less sugar. Studies have shown that high blood glucose can damage brain function. Not to mention sugar ruins your teeth and makes you fat!

Lose weight. It’s not PC to use the F word but obesity is a killer and costs the country a fortune. Overweight people’s memory declines over 20% faster than people of normal weight.

Avoid cigarettes and beer. Middle-aged men drinking two-and-a-half pints of beer a day speed up their memory loss by 6 years. Smoking has also been linked to a faster decline in memory.

Drink strong coffee. Twice a day. It helps middle-aged people do short-term memory tests but appears to have no effect on young people. Caffeine also strengthens brain connections. So there you skinny decaff latte drinkers. Not good for you!

PS Brain training games don’t help. You might get better at the games but that’s all according the the Alzheimer’s society. Same goes for crosswords and Sudoku.

Tesco to withdraw some sugary drinks

pop_bottle_soda_1600_wht_6589-2Tesco says it is withdrawing some bestselling children’s drinks in a bid to tackle obesity.

From September they will stop selling cartons of Ribena, Capri-Sun, and Rubicon.

They will however continue to stock bottles of Ribena and fizzy drinks.

Professor of Cardiology Graham MacGregor, who is Chairman of Action on Sugar, said “This is great news and shows that Tesco is taking the issue of sugar in soft drinks seriously. Children should not be drinking sweet soft drinks and parents should make sure they switch to water instead

Major supermarkets say they are reducing the sugar content of own brand drinks after being criticised.

Tesco said “We want to help our customers make healthier choices and that’s why we have pledged to continue to cut sugar from the food and drink on our shelves