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Walking For Brain Health

We know that regular exercise benefits fitness overall and heart health in particular, and now a new study from the University of Kansas suggests that even a little exercise can help improve some thinking skills that wane with age. Researchers recruited 101 healthy seniors 65 or older with no cognitive impairments and tested their aerobic capacity, memory and thinking. They then divided the volunteers into three groups to perform supervised brisk walking on a treadmill in a gym for 75, 150 or 225 minutes a week. Those in a fourth group served as controls and didn’t exercise. After 26 weeks, retesting showed improvements in fitness that varied depending on how much time the participants exercised, but it also showed positive trends in two aspects of cognition - the ability to control their attention and to create visual maps of spaces in their heads.  No differences in thinking were seen between improvements in those who exercised least and those who put in more time. The conclusion: just a little bit of exercise may be all you need to keep your wits about you as you age.

My take: These are interesting findings, but they don’t yet answer the pressing question of how much exercise – if any – can help delay mental decline in processes such as Alzheimer’s disease. Studies are in the works to determine whether physical activity can serves as an effective primary or secondary intervention, but we’re not likely to know the results for years. While keeping the mind healthy is a priority, the small amount of physical activity that proved beneficial for the brain in this study falls short of what you need for fitness and heart health. I recommend that seniors walk briskly for 45 minute a day. In the meantime, as this study suggests, sufficient exercise to boost heart health and general fitness may also help keep your thinking skills intact. 

Walk Faster. Stop. Start. And Burn More Calories

A simple change of pace during your daily walk can help boost your metabolism. In fact, it’s estimated that you’ll burn up to 20 percent more calories by varying your walking speed than you would if you move at a constant clip. Researchers at Ohio State University found that changing walking speed usually isn’t factored into estimates of the number of calories burned while exercising. They reported that up to 8 percent of the energy burned while walking is used when stopping and starting. They based their findings on measurements of the energy expended by volunteers altering their pace on a treadmill operating at a constant speed. The participants walked faster to move to the front of the treadmill or slowly to move to the back. If the treadmill speed itself is changed, you don’t get an accurate measure of energy used since the machine is doing some of the work, the researchers said. They also found that people walk slower when covering shorter distances and faster when they’ve got farther to go. And they advise that to burn more calories while walking “do weird things” - carry a backpack, walk with weights and stop, then start while you’re walking, or walk a curve rather than a straight line.

Running or Walking: What’s the Healthier Choice?

While both are excellent ways to burn calories, boost your metabolism and keep your body working smoothly, when it comes to the best overall exercise, Dr. Weil thinks one is the clear winner. Find out which exercise he chooses!

On the face of it, you might figure that when covering the same distance - say, a mile - you would burn the same number of calories whether you walk or run. After all, while walking is less strenuous, it takes longer for a walker to cover the distance.

But running requires much more effort than walking - you're actually jumping from one foot to the other as you propel yourself forward, a major muscular undertaking. Bottom line: running burns 50 percent more calories than walking over any given distance, even though running takes less time.   

Still, I think walking is the best exercise choice for most of us, particularly as we get older. Walking may not burn as many calories as running, but it offers the great advantage of being a practical substitute to driving for short trips, since you can do it in street clothes and you don't typically arrive in need of a shower. Further, it requires no skill or practice. Everyone knows how to do it, and the only equipment you need is a good pair of shoes. You can walk outdoors or indoors (in shopping malls, for example). It is the safest exercise option of all, with the least chance of injury.

The key to making walking pay off is to do it briskly. Aerobic walking cannot be casual or intermittent. Keep at it until you can walk about three miles in forty-five minutes. Doing this at least five times a week is one of the best moves you can make for a lifetime of health.

Want to Add Years to Your Life?

A long, healthful life is a goal for many. And one thing can have a big impact on whether that goal is achieved  – find out what it is!

Want to add years to your life? Make regular, moderate exercise part of your healthy lifestyle routine. Physical activity is good for the body, mind and spirit; helps maintain and improve the health of your heart; reduces the risk of diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's; promotes energy, quality rest and a healthy weight; helps manage unhealthy stress; and may alleviate mild to moderate depression.

So why isn't everyone exercising?

People can always find excuses not to exercise, but really - there is no good reason. To reap all these benefits, all most people need is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least four days a week, including at least two days of strength training, and a stretching routine.

It's simple to begin: rent fitness DVDs, download a workout app as a guide, join a gym, make an appointment with a personal trainer or simply get some friends together for daily walks.

Change Your Walk, Change Your Mood?

Did you know that your walk reflects your mood? Trudge along slump-shouldered and you appear depressed. Put a little pep in your step and you look happy. Interestingly, it appears the reverse may be true as well. Changing your walking style can affect your mood for better or worse, according to new research from Canada's Queen's University. Building on the knowledge that how we feel affects the way we walk, the investigators wanted to find out if changing the way we walk can affect mood. They put volunteers on treadmills and prompted some of them to walk in a depressed style and others to walk as if they were happy. To begin, the study participants were shown a list of positive and negative words such as "pretty," "afraid" and "anxious." While the volunteers were on the treadmill their gait and posture were tracked. After the treadmill test, the volunteers were asked to write down as many words as they remembered from the list they were shown earlier. The responses revealed that those whose walking style was depressed remembered more negative words, and that a depressed walking style did create a more depressed mood. Breaking this cycle might help with treatment of depressed patients, the researchers suggested.

Sitting Too Much? Do This.

Spending the workday sitting can lead to higher cholesterol levels and greater waist circumference, both well-known risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Researchers at Indiana University have found that simply taking a five-minute walk can help maintain the healthy function of leg arteries that could otherwise be compromised during hours of sitting. First, the team showed that even one hour of sitting can slow blood flow to the main artery in the legs by as much as 50 percent. That didn’t happen when study participants stood up and walked for five minutes for each hour of sitting, a positive change that the researchers attributed to an increase in muscle activity and blood flow during the walks. The 11 study participants were non-obese healthy men ages 20 through 35. To begin the investigation, they sat for three hours straight without moving their legs. The researchers used a blood pressure cuff and ultrasound to check the functionality of the femoral artery when the men first sat down and at the one-, two- and three-hour marks. Then, the men sat for another three-hour period, but every hour took a five-minute break to walk on a treadmill at two miles per hour. When the researchers tested the men while they were seated after their walks, they found that the arterial function wasn't altered or decreased.

My take? This study of this simple lifestyle intervention is good news for the millions of Americans who spend the working day seated. Getting up and walking for five minutes per hour is a healthy practice and walking at the rate of two miles per hour is no hardship. Other strategies that have been suggested to overcome the health hazards of too much sitting include the use of adjustable height desks so you can spend at least part of the day on your feet, and using a treadmill desk that allows you to walk at a slow, steady pace (less than two miles per hour) on a moving belt while you work at a desk that straddles the machine. I'm in favor of anything that increases the motivation or opportunity to move regularly.

Source:
Saurabh Thosar et al, "Effect of Prolonged Sitting and Breaks in Sitting Time on Endothelial Function," Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 18, 2014, Epub ahead of print

Walk Away from Knee Arthritis

If arthritis in your knees is slowing you down, walking more, rather than less, may help keep you on the go. For those that are multitasking, part of the solution may be a pedometer (or cell phone app) that counts your daily steps. When they add up to 6,000, arthritis in the knee begins to improve, and the risk of disability declines, according to a new study from Boston University. Every step you take throughout the day counts toward your 6,000, the study found. Author Daniel White, a research assistant professor in the department of physical therapy and athletic training, says that when most people walk, they average 100 steps per minute, which means that if you were to do your 6,000 steps all at once, you would spend an hour walking. The research included 1,800 adults who had knee arthritis or were at risk of the problem and were already participating in an ongoing osteoarthritis study. White explained that the investigation was aimed at determining the fewest daily steps that would help people with knee arthritis remain mobile. If you're not in good shape, he suggests setting an initial goal of 3,000.

My take? In combination with daily exercise (walking counts), losing at least 10 percent of your weight, if you're overweight, can help go a long way toward relieving the pain of knee arthritis and improving mobility. In addition to weight loss and exercise, I recommend making some specific dietary changes to help reduce the inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis. Research has shown that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the spices ginger and turmeric may be especially beneficial. And foods rich in antioxidants - plentifully found in most vegetables and fruit - may help reduce tissue damage from inflammation.

Sources:
Daniel K. White et al, “Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee OA: An observational study,” Arthritis Care & Research, doi: 10.1002/acr.22362.

Surprising Route to Creative Thinking

Need some new ideas? Take a hike. Seriously, new research from Stanford University shows that walking increases creative inspiration by about 60 percent compared to coming up with good ideas while sitting. You don’t even have to go outdoors. The research team found that walking on a treadmill is just as effective, creativity-wise. What’s more, returning to your desk (or couch) doesn’t immediately turn off the flow of inspiration stimulated by your walk, the Stanford study found. However, the researchers reported that there were some limits to the benefits of walking – for example, they found that while a stroll improved creative thinking, it didn’t necessarily help study participants (176 college students and other adults) come up with the right answers to questions aimed at provoking "focused thinking." Three of the other study experiments were designed to measure “divergent thinking.” Here, the students were given four minutes to come up with alternate uses for an object – their answers were considered novel (i.e. creative) when students came up with an answer no one else suggested.

My take? These are interesting findings. I’m an advocate for anything that gets people up and moving – if inspiration doesn’t strike, at least you’ll benefit from some exercise. I’ve also read that taking a short nap can help boost creativity in addition to bolstering emotional and procedural memory. Maybe a walk works – even if you’re on a treadmill – simply because it allows you to disengage from your usual surroundings. The Stanford researchers haven’t yet looked into the causal mechanisms that trigger creativity when you’re walking and may focus future research on whether other forms of physical activity have similar results.

Sources:
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036577

Why Walk to Work?

Walking to work can reduce high blood pressureIf you walk, ride a bike or take public transportation to work, you’re less likely to be overweight compared to people who drive to work or take a taxi. You’re also 17 percent less likely to have high blood pressure. And walkers are 40 percent less likely to have diabetes. These findings come from a British survey of 20,000 people across the UK. Researchers at Imperial College London and University College London determined that 19 percent of working age adults who drove, taxied or rode a motorbike to work were obese compared to 15 percent of those who walked and 13 percent of those who rode their bikes. The survey showed that cyclists were about half as likely to have diabetes as drivers, and that transport to work varied widely with location within the UK. For example, in London 52 percent of those surveyed used public transportation, while only five percent did in Northern Ireland. The findings were published on August 6, 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Source:
Anthony A. Laverty and Christopher Millett, et al “Active Travel to Work and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the United Kingdom,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.012

Simple Steps away from Diabetes

Taking a short stroll after each meal is all seniors may need to do in order to lower their blood sugar levels and protect against diabetesJust taking a short stroll after each meal is all seniors may need to do in order to lower their blood sugar levels and protect against diabetes. A small study at George Washington University demonstrated that taking 15-minute walks after meals was “significantly more effective” for lowering blood sugar than a longer walk at another time during the day. The research team recruited 10 healthy seniors age 60 and older who were at risk of type 2 diabetes because of high levels of fasting blood sugar and low levels of physical activity. During the study the participants walked on a treadmill at what the researchers described as an “easy to moderate pace”. They were assigned to walk at various times, including 15 minutes after each meal or for 45 minutes at 10:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon. The researchers reported that the walk most effective at controlling blood sugar was the one taken after the evening meal. The research team explained that the rise in blood sugar normally seen after dinner was “curbed significantly” as soon as the participants started to walk on the treadmill. The study was published on June 12, 2013 in Diabetes Care.

Source:
DiPietro, Loretta, Andrei Gribok, Michelle S. Stevens, Larry F. Hamm, and William Rumpler. "Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance." Diabetes Care (2013).