Posts Tagged ‘Physical Activity’

Why It’s Important to Keep Up Your Exercise Routine in Bad Weather

November 26th, 2014 at 6:01 pm by timigustafson

Too dark, too rainy, too cold – there are countless obstacles to outdoor exercising in the winter months. It’s also a time for easy excuses. But what a shame to see that hard work you’ve put in all year go to waste because it’s less pleasant outside. It shouldn’t be this way, it doesn’t have to.

Admittedly, walking or running in foul weather is not everyone’s cup of tea. The temptation to remain sedentary is extra persuasive then, but the effects become evident all too soon, especially when you add in the extra food intake that seems unavoidable during the holidays.

So keeping an eye on your fitness routine is even more important. Not only does regular exercise benefit the body all year round but the mind as well and can keep the notorious “winter blues,” a.k.a. “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), at bay.

Scientists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in cooperation with colleagues from the Witten/Herdecke University in Witten, Germany, have found that when people move less, their mood also changes, and not for the better.

Worse yet, prolonged lack of physical activity can lead to occurrences of negative emotions, including bouts of depression, according to their study results.

If that is not damaging enough, the researchers also detected connections between insufficient exercise and deficiencies in memory.

It’s as simple as observing someone’s gait that can tell a lot about whether that person is depressed or cheerful and energetic. Also, in memory tests that required recalling strings of words, participants who felt downbeat remembered predominantly negative adjectives like “boring” or “stupid,” in contrast to their counterparts with a more positive outlook who focused on descriptions like “courageous” or “attractive.”

The tests confirm what prior research has abundantly shown, namely that the way and the intensity by which we move affects our mental capacity as well.

Obviously, there is a correlation between body and mind when it comes to remembering information, Dr. Johannes Michalak, a professor of psychology at Witten/Herdecke University and lead researcher, concluded in the study report.

Besides the positive effects on the mind, there is also much to be said for the benefits of winter activities for the body.

The best defense against catching a cold or worse is to strengthen the immune system. This can be done by eating a diet full of immune system-boosting foods, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, managing stress and, of course, exercising.

Fresh air is especially helpful, says Achim Achilles, a long distance runner and health and fitness columnist for the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Cold temperatures and precipitation don’t have to keep you inside. But there are some caveats, he says, that should be considered. For one, it takes longer for the muscles to warm up. In order to avoid injuries, it is important to stretch and increase intensity gradually. Also staying dry as much as possible by wearing protective gear and getting out of wet clothes quickly is a must. Other than that, there is no reason why anybody should forego their favorite outdoor activities, come rain or shine.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Healthy Aging: To Stay Physically Active, Better Start Early

December 4th, 2013 at 1:32 pm by timigustafson

Unlike their predecessors, baby boomers will remain as physically and mentally active as ever, even as they retire from their day jobs. 60 and 70-year-olds will continue to push boundaries, explore and experiment, travel the world, play sports, and stay healthy and fit far longer than what has been considered possible only a generation or two ago – or so we are told by an onslaught of literature, advertisements and workshops for active retirement, declaring the twilight years as the best of all times.

The truth is that many retirees find it hard to stay active at all after having lived sedentary lifestyles for most of their lives.

How active people will continue to be largely depends on the kind of jobs they are retiring from, according to Dr. Stephen Kritchevsky, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine and director of the Sticht Center of Aging at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

For most people, retirement is a very important change in life, which can bring about new opportunities but also pitfalls. Retirees have more time on their hands to take care of their health needs, which can yield important dividends long-term, he said to Reuters Health. But it’s not a given that everyone will begin a healthy exercise regimen if he or she has not done so before.

study from England examined differences in physical activity habits between working and retired participants and found that most of those who lead a sedentary life continued to do so after retiring, and that those who were more active in their younger years usually kept to their routines after they stopped working.

Although it seems that sedentary working conditions and lifestyles prime many people for lack of movement as they grow older, the slower pace of retirement can also be a “critical window” for encouraging older adults to become more active, according to Dr. Alan Godfrey, a researcher at the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University and lead author of the study report.

One of the most important things retiring people must do is to plan carefully how they intend to fill their days. Pursuing old dreams, developing new interests, taking up new sports and other activities may sound wonderful, but some of those projects may be unrealistic for a number of reasons, including physical limitations and other health concerns.

Naturally, the healthier and fitter you are by the time you get to your golden years, the more you will be able to accomplish. But acting age-appropriately should also be a consideration, no matter how well you have (or think you have) been able to preserve your vigor.

But regardless of personal history, physical exercise is a crucial component of healthy aging. Whether you just want to feel better and have more energy, or whether longevity is your goal, age-appropriate exercise can be beneficial on multiple levels. It helps you control your weight, strengthens your immune system, enhances mobility, promotes better sleep, keeps your sex life going, and may even protect you against age-related memory loss and dementia. But the earlier you start a regular program and stick with it, the better your chances will be that it will do you a lot of good.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Adjusting Diet and Exercise to a Slowing Metabolism” and “Healthy Aging: Exercising the Body Benefits the Mind, Too.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Walking, a Simple Yet Highly Effective Health Measure

November 30th, 2013 at 5:33 pm by timigustafson

At a time when extreme sports are all the hype, mundane activities like walking don’t get much attention. It’s just too basic, too boring to even think about it. Yet walking can be a great indicator of both physical and mental wellbeing. In addition, walking is considered by health experts as one of the most effective ways to stay fit and fend off illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, and even dementia.

A recent study from England found that taking a long walk every day can help decrease the risk of stroke, especially in older men. It doesn’t seem to matter as much how fast someone walks, just how often and for how long.

“Our study suggests that maintaining an active lifestyle, specifically by spending more time on all forms of walking, could be an important part of stroke prevention strategies in older people,” said Dr. Barbara J. Jefferis, a epidemiologist from University College London and lead author of the study, in an interview with Reuters.

According to her findings, men who walked four to seven hours each week were 11 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who walked three hours or less. Participants in the study who walked the most – more than three hours daily – had a 60 percent lower risk than those who spent the least amount of time walking.

Although this particular study included only men, there is no reason to assume that walking wouldn’t benefit women in similar ways.

Walking seems to provide other advantages as well. A number of studies have found that losing the ability to walk at a reasonably brisk pace can be an indication not just for physical but also mental decline. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic looked at stride length, cadence and velocity of older adults and concluded that gait changes and slowing pace can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of age-related dementia. Some of these effects may be delayed, if not prevented, in people who maintain a regular walking regimen.

Of course, there is no need to wait until old age to take up walking as a form of exercise. At any time in life, going on hikes or just strolls around the block can help with overall fitness, weight management, bone and muscle strength, balance and flexibility, and also stress management, sleep, and emotional wellbeing.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are notoriously averse to walking and prefer driving even for short distances. This is especially true in rural areas and cities that lack a walkable infrastructure. Nevertheless, in its recommendations for greater public health, the agency urges everyone to get a minimum of two and a half hours moderate exercise per week. It may take some creativity and rethinking of lifestyle, but the sooner you start, the better the results will be, now and long-term.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Don’t Just Sit There, It’s Not Healthy!

July 31st, 2013 at 12:40 pm by timigustafson

Health experts have long warned that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a number of diseases and even shorten people’s lifespan. Several recent studies have confirmed that sitting for hours while working, commuting or relaxing at home can result in serious damage that cannot easily be offset even with regular exercise.

One study found that sitting for six to eight hours significantly increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain forms of cancer. These findings are particularly relevant for office workers and people driving for a living, like taxi-, bus- and truck drivers, according to Dr. Richard R. Rosenkranz, a professor of nutrition science at Kansas State University and co-author of the study report.

“We know with very high confidence that more physically active people do better with regard to chronic disease compared to less physically active people, but we should also be looking at reduced sitting. A lot of office jobs that require long periods of sitting may be hazardous to your health because of inactivity and low levels of energy expenditure,” Rosenkranz said in an interview with Medical News Today. “It’s not just that people aren’t getting enough physical activity, but it’s that they’re also sitting too much.”

What’s significant here is that sitting for hours on end by itself can form a health hazard. For example, as one study found, those who sit uninterruptedly for most of their work days nearly double their risk of developing colon cancer. This is independent of how physically active they are in their free time. It’s a bit like smoking – the damage occurs no matter how healthily you live otherwise.

The risks are the same for everyone who sits too long, regardless of age, says Dr. Mark Tremblay, professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Institute (HALO).

“People tend to think they’re okay as long as they get their ‘dose’ of working out each day, [but] getting your 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week is no insurance against chronic disease,” he said to Reuters.

Why sitting especially contributes to such a wide range of health risks is not yet altogether clear, however, experts believe that sitting too much may adversely affect blood vessels and metabolism by increasing fat content in the blood stream and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

“When you are standing or walking, your leg muscles are constantly working, which helps to clear blood glucose and blood fats from the blood stream,” said Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a researcher at the University of Sydney who conducted a separate study on the subject in Australia. “If you are sitting, this is not happening because the muscles are not active.”

More companies are beginning to realize that a health-conducive work environment can benefit not only their workers but also their own bottom-line. To minimize rising insurance costs by preventing health problems before they develop, some are redesigning work stations and offer in-house facilities where employees can move, bend and stretch multiple times during the day. Elevated desks where work can be performed standing and even treadmills in individual office spaces are becoming more common.

There are also less cumbersome adjustments people can do on their own. Taking breaks for a few minutes every one or two hours by walking the hallways or climbing the stairs to loosen one’s muscles is a good start. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done about long, slow-moving commutes other than finding housing closer to work, which is not always an option. But moving and stretching after coming home, instead of immediately collapsing in the lazy chair, can offer at least some compensation.

Those who travel long-distance by plane should also pay close attention to their need for movement before and after their flight. Layovers offer great opportunities for walking airport terminals. Instead of sitting at the bar, the lounge or the waiting area, you can go for a long stroll. While airborne, you should get up at least once every hour and walk the aisles as far as possible.

The benefits from moving, even the slow and leisurely kind, should not be underestimated or dismissed as insignificant. If nothing else, you burn a few calories and prevent stiffness and back pain and, in the long run, more serious problems. So, don’t just sit there, do something for your health…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment

October 28th, 2012 at 12:48 pm by timigustafson

More and more companies are enrolling their workforce in health and wellness programs to cut staggering health care costs, reduce absenteeism and foster productivity as well as morale and loyalty, according to several studies on recent changes in employer-based health care policies. There is a fast growing interest in taking preventive measures such as promoting weight control, physical activity and cessation of tobacco use, not only among big corporations but also small and mid-size businesses.

Lifestyle-related (and therefore preventable) illnesses make up approximately 80 percent of the burden of health care costs for companies and 90 percent of all health care costs, according to one study.

Health and wellness incentives have long been considered a luxury only large corporations can afford, not a strategic imperative for all businesses to keep ever-increasing health care costs at bay, say the authors of a study published in the Harvard Business Review. That view is rapidly changing.

There is no shortage of examples where investments in employees’ social, mental and physical health has paid off. For instance, Johnson & Johnson has estimated that their wellness program, which started out in 1995, saved the company about $250 million in health care costs over a decade, according to the report.

Despite of these encouraging case studies, many wellness programs continue to evolve and companies are still trying to figure out exactly how or if their initiatives affect their bottom line, according to analyses by business insurance companies.

To be sure, not all employees welcome these programs in their place of work. Sometimes additional incentives such as reductions in premiums and co-payments and other cash bonuses are needed to get them to join.

A few employers have begun requiring health risk assessments and biometric screening for their workers to qualify for health care coverage, a step some may consider an undue intrusion in their private affairs.

Experts warn against an antagonistic climate around the issue of health in the workplace. Employers should design their policies and programs around the needs of their employees, advises Judith A. Monroe, MD, State Health Commissioner of Indiana. If there are a number of smokers in a company, offering cessation counseling may be important. If weight problems are of concern, access to exercise and nutrition programs could be provided.

“One of the components that is key to the overall success of wellness programs is the development of a culture of health within the organization,” says Dr. Steven Noelder, a consultant with Total Health Management in Newport Beach, California. “Not only do you need top-down support, you also need support at the grassroots level.” In other words, only when everyone feels that the measures taken are in his or her own best interest can health and wellness programs produce the desired outcome and make a difference for the better.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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