Research Roundup 1/25/19: The Top 7 Health Stories of the Week

Research Roundup Episode 1

We know it can be a full-time job—not to mention completely overwhelming—trying to keep up with all the latest health news and headlines. But that’s exactly why we’re here: To help you sort through all the health and fitness research, distill it into the most meaningful pieces, and most importantly, help translate the science into actionable steps for you. With that in mind, here’s some of the most relevant news and research. Enjoy!

Research Roundup Episode 1: 1/25/2019

Story 1: Stand Up for Health

If you are like most office workers, you find yourself seated much of the day. But did you know that sitting for long stretches at a time—an hour or more without interruption—not only slows your metabolism, it also increases the risk of early death? Fortunately, you can easily reduce the risk.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers collected data from nearly 8,000 participants over 45 years old and examined how much time they were sedentary over a 4-year period. The researchers found that replacing 30 minutes of sitting with low-intensity activity decreased the risk of early death by 17%. And those who swapped 30 minutes of sitting for more moderate to vigorous physical activity cut their risk of early death (from any cause) by 35%.

And you don’t have to accumulate 30 minutes all at once; even short one- to two-minute bursts of activity can add up to boost health AND metabolism!

Take-home message: If you sit a lot due to your job or lifestyle, try to sit for no longer than 30 minutes at a time. Break up sedentary periods with short bursts of activity. Here’s one super-easy way to get your 30 minutes of activity in: 7 Incredible Benefits of Walking Daily.

The Source of the Story: Keith M Diaz et al, Sedentary Time with Short Sedentary Bouts or Physical Activity: A National Cohort Study, American Journal of Epidemiology (2019). DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwy271

Story 2: Enjoy Your (Stair Climbing) “Snacks”

Do you have stairs at your house, apartment, or office? If so, one big excuse to avoid exercise—no time—was just eliminated.

In a new study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, kinesiologists at McMaster University and UBC Okanagan found that sedentary young adults who vigorously climbed a three-flight stairwell (60 stairs), which took mere minutes, three times a day for six weeks significantly improved cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., VO2peak) and strength—with a time commitment of just 10 minutes or so each day.

This is another feather in the cap for “exercise snacks,” brief periods of exercise interjected throughout the day, which have been shown to boost health and fitness.

According to Jonathan Little, assistant professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus and study co-author, “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise more sedentary.”

Take-home message: All of us can be short on time but taking short exercise breaks (aka “snacks”) a few times a day several times a week can not only increase energy and productivity, it can help improve strength and fitness. Yes, it is worth it to take the stairs!

The Source of the Story: Elizabeth M. Jenkins et al, Do Stair Climbing Exercise “Snacks” Improve Cardiorespiratory Fitness?, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism (2019). DOI: 10.1139/apnm-2018-0675

Story 3: The Value of Self-Motivation During Workouts

Ever had a coach or fitness instructor who really motivated you and made you feel great about your workout and your body? Or, have you ever had an experience with a trainer or coach who left you feeling a bit worse about yourself?

It might be the words they use.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, fitness instructors were given two different types of scripts to use during a short 16-minute conditioning class. The exercises, location, and music were the same, but the instructors made motivational comments that were either appearance-focused ( for instance, “This exercise blasts fat in the legs—no more thunder thighs.”) or function-focused (for example, “This exercise is crucial to developing strength in the legs.”).

The researchers found that when the instructors provided function-focused feedback, the women reported more positive emotions and improved satisfaction with their bodies compared to when the comments were appearance-focused.

Take-home message: If you want to stick with your workout plans (and we know you do), shame doesn’t have a place. Look for instructors who help you focus on the strength you’re building and how you’re improving your health rather than those who are focused on appearance. While it wasn’t part of the study, it’s also likely a good idea to check in with your own self-talk to help you stick to your exercise program.

The Source of the Story: Renee Engeln et al, Tone it Down: How Fitness Instructors’ Motivational Comments Shape Women’s Body Satisfaction, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1123/jcsp.2017-0047

Story 4: Exercise is Medicine?

Exercise Is Medicine
One of the most important and exciting fitness trends for 2019 is “Exercise Is Medicine,” or EIM, which is a global health initiative. And a recent study demonstrated how effective—and cost effective—prescribing personalized exercise could be for type 2 diabetes, which is a lifestyle-related condition that is increasing at alarming rates (over 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and more than 80 million more are on their way with prediabetes).

According to Dr. Hareld Kemps, a cardiologist at Máxima Medical Centre (Veldoven, the Netherlands) and first author of a newly-published position paper from the European Association of Preventative Cardiology (EAPC), “Sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets are the most important drivers of the increasing number of patients with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks. Diabetes doubles the risk of mortality, but the fitter patients become, the more the risk declines.”

Unfortunately, just recommending that patients exercise isn’t typically enough. This paper provides practical recommendations for healthcare professionals on how to motivate folks to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, set achievable and measurable goals, and design individualized exercise training programs to meet those goals. This can improve long-term adherence, and therefore, effectiveness.

Take-home message: Even small increases in exercise can help people with type 2 diabetes and heart issues. As there are well-known health benefits for regular exercise, it only makes sense for EIM to become a powerful tool for healthcare practitioners.

The Source of the Story: Hareld Kemps et al, Exercise Training for Patients with Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: What to Pursue and How to Do It. A Position Paper of the European Association of Preventive Cardiology (EAPC), European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (2019). DOI: 10.1177/2047487318820420

Story 5: Fiber is Essential

Most of us simply don’t eat nearly enough fiber—not even close to the recommended 25 to 40 grams per day. In fact, on a “good” day, most of us are probably closer to 15 grams, a paltry amount that prevents us from realizing the many health benefits of fiber, such as supporting digestive health, heart health, glycemic balance, appetite management, and weight management.

If you need yet another reason to add more fiber-rich foods to your diet, look no further than the results of a robust review study (which analyzed 135 million person-years of data from over 200 studies) published in The Lancet, which found that consuming at least 25 – 29 grams of fiber per day sharply reduced the risk of non-communicable diseases (like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers) and helped significantly reduce body weight and blood pressure. Another win for fiber!

Take-home message: The big question is… are YOU getting enough fiber? Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are 7 easy ways to eat more fiber without even trying (including keto-friendly options).

The Source of the Story: Andrew Reynolds et al, Carbohydrate Quality and Human Health: A Series of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, The Lancet (2019). DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31809-9

Story 6: Obesity Linked to Brain Atrophy?

As if having to deal with the discomfort and health risks that come with excess belly fat wasn’t enough, new research shows that carrying too much body fat around the waist is associated with brain shrinkage, which has been linked to memory decline and a higher risk of dementia.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers found that higher levels of obesity were linked to lower volume of gray (brain) matter. And participants with the highest levels of central obesity (or belly fat) had the lowest levels of gray matter and increased brain atrophy when compared with lean adults.

Take-home message: Need some help battling the belly bulge? We’ve got your back. Check out our top foods and exercises to help burn belly fat.

The Source of the Story: Mark Hamer and G. David Batty, Association of Body Mass Index and Waist-to-Hip Ratio with Brain Structure: UK Biobank Study, Neurology (2019). DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006879

Story 7: Fasting for Fat Loss

Add another feather to the cap of intermittent fasting (IF)!

In a new study published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that women who followed an IF diet (alternate-day fasting) for 8 weeks lost significantly more weight and fat (and saw greater improvements in heart health markers) than women who followed a standard, daily reduced-calorie diet.

What’s crazy is that the IF women lost 20 – 25% more weight and fat despite the fact that the diet groups were calorie-matched—meaning all the women consumed the same number of calories over the duration of the study.

Take-home message: Ready to learn more about IF, all the benefits, and whether it’s right for you? Here’s your guide to IF.

The Source of the Story: Amy T. Hutchison et al, Effects of Intermittent Versus Continuous Energy Intakes on Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Risk in Women with Overweight, Obesity (2018). DOI: 10.1002/oby.22345