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

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.

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.

Fat teenagers don’t get it

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853They watch TV programmes about obesity – which usually feature clinically obese people – and think they are OK, even though they are overweight and probably in danger of becoming obese.

Being obese puts people at increased risk of diabetes and increasingly of cancer (an estimated 18,000 cases a year).

When researchers from Cancer Research UK asked teenagers aged 13 to 15 if they were overweight or OK, 40% of those who were overweight or obese thought they were OK.

Obesity, which accounts for about a fifth of cancer deaths, is set to overtake smoking as the main cause of cancer.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, said “Programmes about overweight people tend to show very obese people. Some teenagers who see these images probably think that is what an overweight person looks like so they might not realise if they are slightly overweight”. 

Sarah Jackson, who led the study, said that parents often underestimate the problem putting it down to “Puppy fat“.  Also growing levels of obesity are normalising overweight people as “normal”.

In the study only three-quarters of the teenagers had a bmi within the normal weight range (NB bmi is not the best measure). 20% were overweight and 7% obese.

80% thought they were the right weight, 7% that they were too heavy, and 10% that they were too light. Girls were more likely than boys to think they were too heavy.

Professor Jane Wardle from the Cancer Research UK Health BehaviourResearch Centre at UCL said “Young people who think they’re overweight when they’re not can sometimes develop devastating eating disorders, so we’re delighted that most of the normal-weight teenagers had a realistic view of their body size. But we need to find effective ways of helping too-heavy teenagers slim down and maintain a healthier weight”

Other posts about obesity

Fat people can imagine the smell of food better

big_nose_1600_wht_11134Which might explain why they’re overweight.

Scientists at Yale University have discovered that a person’s ability to imagine the smell of food correlates with their body mass index (bmi).

Thin people are less able to imagine the smell of food. “Compared to imagining a favourite place or singing a song to ourselves people vary greatly in their ability to imagine smells” said Dr Barkha Patel at the John B Pierce laboratory.

“If people with higher body weights report a heightened ability to imagine odours this may intensify the food craving experience through the creation of more vivid images of flavours and aromas“.

The results of her experiments, where participants were asked to evoke various objects and activities and rate how vivid they were, showed that Normal weight people had a poorer ability to imagine doors compared to overweight and obese people.

Obesity researchers have identified cravings as a crucial part of why people become fat.(Lack of self-control perhaps?)

Cravers create mental images of the desired substance that are immediately pleasurable but which exacerbate their awareness of the deficit. This causes a vicious circle of desire, imagery, and planning to satisfy that desire” said Dr Patel.

Most of us are affected by cooking smells if we’re hungry but for these obese people they don’t even need to have the olfactory cues. They just think about food and they’re ready to start (over)eating.

If they drink as well that could make it worse as having an aperitif makes you eat more.

We’re fat but not as fat as euro neighbours

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853We know obesity is a problem in the UK but apparently we’re not as bad as our European neighbours. And I’m not talking about fat-cat euro politicians with their unaudited expense accounts!

Projections by the WHO suggest that by 2030 men in Ireland will be the fattest with Spain, Greece, Czech Republic and Poland overtaking Britain.

For women it’s Belgium (perhaps all that lovely chocolate) followed by Bulgaria and Turkey.

Netherlands is the only country to show a decline with only 8% of men likely to be obese. It’s not that they eat more healthily than us but they do take more exercise with only 1 in 5 not taking enough compared to 2/3 of Brits. They also use bicycles for 25% of their journeys compared to only 2% in Britain (to be fair there are no hills in the Netherlands).

In Britain 75% of men and 1/3 of all adults will be overweight as middle-aged people ignore pleas to eat more healthily.

In 2010 70% of men and 59% of women were overweight (as defined by a bmi of over 25). If you are a man 5′ 10″ tall that means you are over15 stones and if you’re a woman 5’4″ tall that means over 12 stone 7 lbs.

The National Obesity forum is urging the government to take action against the food and drink industry as cajoling hasn’t worked.

They say the NHS will collapse under the cost of treating diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases linked to obesity.

Obese? No, not me..

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the majority of obese people don’t think that they are.

Only 1 in 10 clinically obese people admit that they are; 11% of women and 7% of men.

A further 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 admitted that they were “very overweight” but the rest thought that they were either simply overweight or just right.

The research carried out by Cancer Research UK and published in BMJ Open found that only 10% of people knew that a body mass index (BMI) of 30 is the cut-off score for obesity.

Leaving aside the fact that the BMI has been discredited when used as a single measure of health and better methods have been discovered it perhaps reflects the fact that being overweight has become normalised in our society.

The director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL said; “It’s a real worry that people don’t recognise that their weight places them in the obese category because it means that they aren’t aware of the increased risk of a number of health problems including cancer”.

She also thinks that the term obese is considered derogatory and rejected by overweight people, and this might have been worsened by campaigners using extreme images to get their message across, something most people won’t identify with.

It also seems that many GPs struggle to categorise patients as either overweight and obese and now that health care workers aren’t allowed to use the word “fat” just what can be done about it? Enforced boot camps?

The government would rather throw money at it by providing gastric bands for people with no will-power or motivation to stay healthy.