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There is another great reason to try to lose weight if you are overweight or obese - being overweight or obese lowers blood flow to the brain in older adults. Yikes! However, one bit of good news from a study of 495 adults (average age 69) was that increased physical activity (brisk walks count!) can reduce or eliminate this association.

This could help explain why obesity increases the risk for a number of conditions as a person gets older, such as heart disease, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

The study was part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing. The average BMI (body mass index) was 28, which is considered overweight. One finding was that each 1 cm increase in waist circumference was associated with the same reduction of brain (cerebral) blood flow as 1 year of advancing age. (Yes, brain volume and blood flow typically diminish with age in older adults. So you want to prevent it as much as possible.)

The study found that higher levels of physical activity can reduce or remove this association of overweight & obesity and reduced brain blood flow. So if it's not possible to lose weight - then get really physically active!

How much exercise is beneficial? The researchers recommend at least 1.5 to 2 hours per day of "being active", that is, doing activities that require "moderate" effort - this means breathing somewhat harder than normal (e.g. brisk walking, cycling at a regular pace, carrying light loads). Equally beneficial is to get some "vigorous activity" which results in breathing much higher than normal (e.g., digging, aerobics, fast cycling, carrying heavy loads). But any and all movement is good!

Medical Xpress: Researchers find obesity linked to reduced blood flow to the brain

A new study from scientists at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin reveals important findings, indicating that being overweight or obese significantly reduces blood flow in the brain. The study also shows that increased physical activity can positively modify, or even negate, this reduction in brain blood flow. ...continue reading "Overweight and Obesity Is Associated With Reduced Blood Flow In the Brain"

Another reason to get more active - a new study finds that being physically inactive (a couch potato) is associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and ICU admission for COVID-19, and death from COVID-19. The researchers concluded that being consistently inactive should be viewed as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, and that it is a "stronger risk factor than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant". Yikes!

On the other hand, being physically active at least 150 minutes per week, and this includes brisk walking, is linked to lower rates of all of the above. Some activity (but under 150 minutes per week) is also better than none, but 150 minutes or more is better. The researchers state that besides vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing - being physically active is the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.

The 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of physical activity per week are the recommended US Physical Activity Guidelines for adults, and include moderate and vigorous physical activity. It includes brisk walking. This can be achieved in less than 1/2 hour per day!

The researchers point out that health benefits of regular physical activity include: improved immune function, lower incidence of viral infections, as well as lower intensity and cases of death from viral infections, lowers the risk of chronic inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity, muscle strength, and improves mental health. Which is why it is not surprising that persons getting a good amount of physical activity each week also generally have fewer problems with COVID-19 infections.

From CNN: Reduce risk of severe Covid with regular activity, study says. Here's how to get in 22 minutes of exercise daily

Some excerpts from the study at British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM): Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48,440 adult patients

Abstract: Objectives To compare hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality for patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive, doing some activity or consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.  ...continue reading "Reduce Your Risk of Severe COVID-19 Infection By Being Physically Active"

Once again a study finds that more exercise and less sitting improves glucose metabolism and so reduces the risk of diabetes. Is anyone surprised anymore by the health benefits of physical activity?

A study conducted in Finland found that in 660 adults 67 to 69 years of age, those who were most active throughout the day had the fewest glucose metabolism disorders (e.g. impaired glucose tolerance) and their insulin sensitivity was better - when compared to less active adults, especially sedentary couch potatoes. The best is to be active and move around a lot during the day, and not just be physically active during a short period.

Other studies find that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is about twice as common in sedentary adults compared to active older adults. Study after study finds that increasing physical activity (as compared to being sedentary or less active) improves a person's health numerous ways and lowers the risk of all sorts of diseases.

From Medical Xpress: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less sitting reduce the risk of diabetes in older adults

According to a recent study, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less sedentary time improve glucose metabolism and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in older adults. Based on the results, it is important to encourage older adults to avoid sedentary time and increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to improve their glucose metabolism. 

...continue reading "Increase Physical Activity to Lower Risk of Diabetes"

An recent study from University of Saskatchewan researchers found that stretching exercises were better than brisk walking for lowering high-normal blood pressure or moderately elevated blood pressure. However, walking was more effective than stretching for reducing waist size.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 male and female adults (average age 61 years) with high normal or moderate hypertension (130/85–159/99 mm Hg) to either 8 weeks of whole body stretching exercises or brisk walking (on outdoor trails or a treadmill) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. The stretching exercise routine included 21 exercises for the shoulders, chest, legs, arms, hips, and back. Each stretch was done twice and held for a 30-second duration with 15 seconds of rest between stretches.

Other studies have also found stretching exercises effective in reducing blood pressure. A possible reason is that when muscles are stretched, blood vessels are also stretched, and this may lead to structural changes in blood vessels. By reducing arterial stiffness, there is improved blood flow, and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The researchers suggested adding stretching exercises to an aerobic exercise program or brisk walking for additional health benefits. By the way, stretching exercises are similar to yoga, which also lowers blood pressure.

From Medical Xpress: Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure, study finds

A new University of Saskatchewan study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.  ...continue reading "Stretching Exercises Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure"

Doctors now have an easy test for determining your heart health, according to European researchers. Anyone can take the test - just need access to staircases and wear comfortable sneakers or shoes. The test: time it takes to climb 4 flights of stairs or 60 steps.

According to the researchers, the best is being able to climb the stairs at a fast pace, without stopping, in 45 seconds or less (heart health!). A sign of poorer ("suboptimal") heart health is taking 1 1/2 minutes or more to do it. The researchers go on to discuss how heart health is linked to risk of death over the next ten years.

From Science Daily: Test your heart health by climbing stairs

Climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to research presented at EACVI -- Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).   ...continue reading "Climbing Stairs Is An Easy Test Of Heart Health"

Being overweight increases the risk of developing diabetes. So a British study finding that modest lifestyle changes could lower the incidence (by over 40%) of developing type 2 diabetes is very encouraging. These were persons who had been diagnosed with prediabetes, thus they were at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What are the beneficial lifestyle changes? Losing a modest amount of weight (4 1/2 to 7 pounds) and increasing the amount of exercise to 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise.

Excerpts from Science Daily: A few kilograms weight loss nearly halves the risk of diabetes

Losing a few kilograms in weight almost halves people's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes -- according to a large scale research study led by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the University of East Anglia. ...continue reading "Modest Lifestyle Changes Can Lower the Risk of Developing Diabetes"

Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills. ...continue reading "Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain"

More evidence that there are health benefits from physical activity, even minimal amounts. Ohio State University researchers found that physical activity, even 10 minute at a time physical activity or exercise, adds up and is associated with lower amounts of cardiovascular (heart) disease in the next ten years - even for obese and overweight persons.

Being overweight or obese are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. About 40% of Americans are obese and 32% are overweight, so having a way to simply and cheaply lower rates of cardiovascular disease is wonderful. Overweight is body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 to 29.9, obesity is BMI 30 or higher, and normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.8 (see CDC guidelines)

The researchers found that physical activity is more important than weight of a person in determining the risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years. Unfortunately 43% of the overweight participants and 53% of the obese participants reported being sedentary (did not engage in at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity each week) - and these groups had the highest risk of cardiovascular disease.

What counts as exercise or physical activity? Physical activity should be at least 10 continuous minutes or more, and ideally add up to 150 minutes or more each week. All moderate (e.g. brisk walking, light yard work, vacuuming, dancing) and vigorous (e.g. jogging, swimming laps, aerobics, heavy yard work) recreation activities count. The study found that engaging in less than 150 minutes a week also lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease, just not as much as for those with 150 minutes or more each week.

Government guidelines: The Physical Activity Guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

Bottom line: Try to move, move, move as much as possible! Yes, a nice 20 minute (1 mile) walk counts!

From Medical Xpress: Not much exercise needed to lower heart disease risk for overweight people

A new study suggests, for obese or overweight adults, that any amount of exercise might lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.  ...continue reading "Any Amount of Physical Activity Is Good For Overweight Adults"

Evidence is accumulating that engaging in exercise may not only prevent cancer, but that in those who already have cancer - it may prevent progression of the cancer. Fantastic!

A large 2019 review of 9 studies (755,459 individuals) found that 2 1/2 hours per week of "moderate-intensity" physical activity or exercise (e.g. brisk walks) really lowers the risk of 7 cancers: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some (but not all) were lowered in a dose response manner, that is, the more exercise (up to 5 hours per week), the bigger the protective effect.

Another 2019 review article stated that there are hundreds of studies in the field of "exercise oncology" which have examined the effect of exercise on cancer in humans. The studies find that exercise may prevent cancer, control cancer progression, and interact positively with anticancer therapies. (One example: a study found regular moderate or vigorous physical activity is associated with lower rates of death in men diagnosed with prostate cancer.)

In addition, hundreds of animal (mice and rat) and laboratory studies show that the anticancer effects of exercise are causal, not just an association. There is evidence that each exercise session actually has an effect on cancer tumors. And that the more exercise sessions, the bigger the effect!

Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move! Plan to do this every week for years.

An infographic that illustrates how exercise has anticancer effects, from The Scientist:  Infographic: Exercise’s Anticancer Mechanisms

Excerpts from the accompanying April 2020 article by Prof. Bente K. Pedersen (Univ. of Copenhagen) on how regular exercise has anticancer effects. From The Scientist: Regular Exercise Helps Patients Combat Cancer

Physical exercise is increasingly being integrated into the care of cancer patients such as Mathilde, and for good reason. Evidence is accumulating that exercise improves the well being of these patients by combating the physical and mental deterioration that often occur during anticancer treatments. Most remarkably, we are beginning to understand that exercise can directly or indirectly fight the cancer itself.  ...continue reading "Regular Exercise Has Anticancer Effects"

The golden skin glow one gets from a healthy diet and lifestyle is real! A number of studies have found that eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables increases skin yellowness (due to the carotenoids in the food). And recently a new study found that besides a healthy diet, that lifestyle factors such as getting plenty of exercise (being fit), losing excess weight, getting enough sleep, and not being too stressed all add to the healthy yellow (errr... "golden") skin glow.

Researchers at the Univ. of St. Andrews (in UK) found that in a mere 8 weeks an increase in fitness and decrease in body fat were both associated with an increase in skin yellowness. They also found that a change in stress and sleep were further predictors of skin yellowness. Thus you can say that there is a general relationship between health and skin tone.

And yes, we probably have observed that ourselves. People stressed out, not sleeping well, not fit (overweight and not getting enough exercise) may have a different look to them. We may notice that their skin color doesn't look good, that they may look pale or unwell.

In conclusion, the researchers write: "results suggest that increasing cardiovascular fitness and decreasing fat levels produce a healthier skin color". So eat plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, be active (get some exercise), get enough sleep, and lose weight if needed. But you knew that already, yes?

From Medical Xpress: Healthy living gives skin a golden glow  ...continue reading "Healthy Lifestyle Seen In the Golden Glow of Skin"