Health risk passed on by fathers (and grandfathers)

Have you ever wondered how your health might affect that of your children?  What about your grand-children?
If you’re a female you probably have, as it has been accepted for some time that the health of the mother at conception and while carrying their baby influences the health of her child.  But men probably haven’t thought that their health has much effect on their descendants.
Well, researchers are warning of the harmful legacy that paternal obesity can have on future generations.  It follows a vital breakthrough in obesity research, which shows a father’s metabolic health can be passed from generation to generation, affecting not only his children but also his grandchildren.
Scientists at Sydney’s Victor Chang Institute and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have discovered that male mice who are obese when they conceive are putting their children and grandchildren at significant risk of developing metabolic disease long before they are even born.
According to the researchers “A baby’s health has long been considered the mother’s responsibility as soon as she falls pregnant. But little attention has been paid to how a father’s health might impact his unborn child.  Now, we’ve found powerful evidence, in a mouse model, that dad’s nutrition and metabolic health can influence his sons, and even his grandsons.”
The scientists looked at the effect of dad’s obesity across three generations. At first his offspring appeared to be in good metabolic health. But when they consumed a high-fat, high sugar, junk food diet, all the sons reacted dramatically and within just a few weeks they developed fatty liver disease and pre-diabetic symptoms, such as elevated glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.
The researchers were surprised to find that the grandsons of the obese mice were also predisposed to metabolic disorders, just as their fathers were. Importantly, this predisposition was transmitted to the grandsons even if their fathers ate well and were metabolically well at the time of conception.
If their grandfather was obese the effects of diet on offspring were dramatic, even when they ate poorly for just for a short time.
There are two implications for this:

  1. The researchers warn that if your father or grandfather was overweight or obese, you might need to be particularly careful about what you choose to eat as you may well be more susceptible to poor lifestyle choices.
  2. If you’re a father-to-be, it’s worth considering whether your own health could impact on your children, and their children in turn.  Getting your own health in order before starting a family could be very important you, for your kids and for their kids.

The scientists say it’s still not entirely clear how this multigenerational programming is happening, but there appear to be clues within the sperm of the mice.  They are now working to understand how changes in RNA molecules in the sperm could transmit the metabolic effects from generation to generation.
For the females reading this, you now have further ammunition to “encourage’ your partner to eat well, manage their weight and stay healthy.  The health of your children isn’t just your responsibility any more.  Tell your partner you won’t have kids with them until they get healthier.  That should be a pretty good incentive to get them off the couch and eating better.

Are you metabolically flexible?

With overweight and obesity skyrocketing around the world, researchers are working hard to identify the causes so we can help those people whose weight is increasing and those whose attempts to lose weight fail.

The standard answer— calories in exceed calories out—sounds reasonable, but in practice the conscious restriction of calories does not seem to work very well for controlling weight and overcoming obesity.

A possible reason, for some people at least, may be that they aren't metabolically flexible.  

Mitochondria are granular organelles found in the cytoplasm of most cells. They have an outer membrane, and a multiply-folded inner membrane. Inside the second membrane is a viscous matrix containing a large number of proteins used to produce energy for the cell.

When a meal of fats and carbohydrates is eaten, both substances are taken into cells. Although both macronutrients are available to be converted into energy, typically the mitochondria will use the carbohydrate first. The insulin that is secreted in response to eating carbohydrate inhibits fat oxidation and encourages it to be stored away. Insulin also enhances glucose oxidation by up-regulating another enzyme involved in carbohydrate metabolism. 

In normal cells after an hour or two, insulin will decline and less glucose will be available to the mitochondria. Free fatty acids will still be present in the cell and will then be allowed to get into the mitochondria where they will be used to produce energy.
This is called metabolic flexibility.  When carbohydrate is present, the mitochondria will preferentially use carbohydrate. When free fatty acids are present but carbohydrates are in short supply, the mitochondria will normally switch over to using fatty acids for fuel.

There is some evidence that obese individuals have a decreased ability to oxidise free fatty acids in skeletal muscle. It is not yet known whether this is due to them having less mitochondria or there are defects in the mitochondria of skeletal muscle.

It is possible to measure the relative use of carbohydrate or fat for fuel by the mitochondria by a technique called Indirect Calorimetry.  This is a simple test where a person sits comfortably after a short fast and breathes through mouthpiece into a gas analyser.

The mitochondria use different amounts of oxygen and produce different amounts of carbon dioxide when they metabolise carbohydrates and fats. This is expressed as the Respiratory Quotient (RQ) or the Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER). When carbohydrate is used as fuel, more CO2 is produced for a particular amount of oxygen consumed and the RQ is higher. The RQ for pure carbohydrate is approximately 1.0. When fat is used for energy, less CO2 will be produced for a particular amount of oxygen and the RQ will be lower. The RQ for pure fat is about 0.7.

By measuring your RQ we can determine what proportions of fat and carbohydrate you are using.  We can also determine your resting metabolic rate, which is how much energy (calories) you need each day.  Knowing this allows us to gauge if you are metabolically flexible.  If you aren't changes to diet and exercise can help to increase your ability to burn both carbohydrates and fats.

How flexible do you think you are? Metabolically speaking!

What happens to your brain when you exercise

Exercise is a highly metabolic process in which the muscle tissues increase their demand for oxygen and the secretion of waste products such as carbon dioxide. In response to these demands, the amount of blood pumped by the heart increases.

Increased blood flow

This increase in blood flow not only affects the muscle tissues but also reaches the brain, supplying more oxygen and fuel, enabling brain cells to function at a higher level. That’s part of the reason why you often feel more alert and focused during and after exercise. As well as acute effects, physical activity results in the improvement of brain blood flow regulation not only during exercise but also in the long term.

Neurogenesis (new brain cells)
Aerobic exercise (e.g. running, walking), stimulates the production of neurotrophic factors in the brain. These molecules are responsible for the growth, development and maintenance of neurons (brain cells). One of these neurotrophic factors, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), plays an important role in neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells. The increase in BDNF in the brain with exercise has been shown to enhance the production and differentiation of new cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that is responsible for long-term memory and learning). Other regions of the brain have also been shown to enlarge in response to physical activity, benefiting other areas of cognition including attention, motor coordination and learning. Increased levels of the neurotrophic factor IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) from regular exercise enhances the effect of BDNF in the formation of new cells and has its own neuroprotective effects.

Another neurotrophic factor, VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor - this is a blood vessel growth promoting factor) protects your brain from low levels of oxygen (hypoxia) by inducing the formation of new blood vessels in your brain to deliver more oxygen. 

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to be ‘plastic’ or malleable by rewiring and remodeling itself in response to experiences and new learning. A brain that is plastic can be thought of as flexible and more able to learn and solve problems. Our brains are most plastic in childhood which is a period of rapid learning and development. This naturally diminishes as we get older but there are ways to promote continual neuroplasticity. Exercise is important as it improves our ability to create new neural pathways between brain cells as well as protecting brain cells. Exercise leads to greater neuron density in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for executive skills such as impulse control and judgment. Reasoning and motivation also take place in this area of the brain. Physical activity adds neuronal connections in the prefrontal cortex facilitating the process of making choices and developing willpower.

During exercise your brain produces alpha waves.  Alpha waves are the brainwave that is associated with states of calm, focus and attention.

Exercise stimulates the secretion of endorphins. These chemicals interact with the opioid receptors in the brain to activate them and reduce the perception of pain. Moderate intensity exercise especially  appears to increase the secretion of β-endorphins which apparently have significantly greater analgesic potency of morphine (Interestingly the word endorphin = ‘endogenous morphine’). Secretion of endorphins  also results in improved mood states triggering a positive feeling in the body that helps to combat mild depression and anxiety.

We often think of the benefits of exercise for our body but forget just how important it is for our brain.  Hopefully this highlights the importance of regular exercise to stay mentally sharp and give you added incentive to stick to your activity routine.

How exercise prevents brain fatigue

Researchers have long known that regular exercise increases the number of organelles called mitochondria in muscle cells. Since mitochondria are responsible for generating energy, this numerical boost is thought to underlie many of the positive physical effects of exercise, such as increased strength and endurance.

Exercise also has a number of positive mental effects, such as relieving depression, improving memory and preventing mild cognitive decline. However, the mechanism behind these mental effects has for a long time been unclear. In a study in mice, researchers at the University of South Carolina discovered that regular exercise also increases mitochondrial numbers in brain cells, a potential cause for exercise’s beneficial mental effects.

The researchers assigned mice to either an exercise group, which ran on an inclined treadmill six days a week for an hour, or to a sedentary group, which was exposed to the same sounds and handling as the exercise group but remained in their cages during the exercise period. 

After eight weeks, researchers examined brain and muscle tissue from some of the mice in each group to test for signs of increases in mitochondria. Additionally, some of the mice from each group performed a “run to fatigue” test to assess their endurance after the eight-week period.

Confirming previous studies, the results showed that mice in the exercise group had increased mitochondria in their muscle tissue compared to mice in the sedentary group. However, the researchers also found that the exercising mice also showed several positive markers of mitochondria increase in the brain, including a rise in the expression of genes for different regulators for mitochondrial production.

These results correlated well with the animals’ increased fitness. Overall, mice in the exercise group increased their run to fatigue times from about 74 minutes to about 126 minutes. No change was seen for the sedentary mice.

What does it mean?

These findings suggest that exercise training increases the number of mitochondria in the brain much like it increases mitochondria in muscles. The study authors note that this increase in brain mitochondria may play a role in boosting exercise endurance by making the brain more resistant to fatigue, which can affect physical performance. 

They also suggest that this boost in brain mitochondria could have clinical implications for mental disorders, making exercise a potential treatment for psychiatric disorders, genetic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases.

These findings could lead to the enhancement of athletic performance through reduced mental and physical fatigue, as well as to the expanded use of exercise as a therapeutic option to attenuate the negative effects of aging, and the treatment and/or prevention of neurological diseases,” the authors say.

Article - Exercise Training Increases Mitochondrial Biogenesis in the Brain. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology, published by the American Physiological Society

Brief bouts of exercise help blood sugar control

Although a recent study involved children, I think the message is important for all of us.

The study of 28 healthy, normal-weight children found that doing three minutes of moderate-intensity walking every half hour over three hours of sitting led to lower levels of blood sugar and insulin, compared to another day when the children sat for three hours straight.

According to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolismn the day the children took brief walks, they did not eat any more at lunch than on the day they remained seated for the entire three hours, .

The findings suggest that brief bouts of activity during otherwise inactive periods could help protect children (and adults) against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Not only that, but elevated insulin levels can make us tired, disrupt our focus and can hinder concentration; all of which are detrimental to performance.

In our busy lives it can be difficult to fit longer stretches of physical activity into the day. Even if you exercise before or after work, you may still sit or be inactive for long periods,  which has been shown to be detrimental to health.  This study confirms that even small activity breaks could have a substantial impact on children's long-term health and no doubt it would have the same or more benefit to adults.

Inactivity after a meal diminishes the muscles' ability to help clear sugar from the bloodstream.  That forces the body to produce more insulin, which increases the risk for  cells in the pancreas to 'fatigue' which can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes.

These findings suggest even short activity breaks can help overcome these negative effects, at least in the short term.

With a large proportion of children and teenagers overweight or obese, it is important that we encourage them to insert small activity breaks into their day.  And for all of us adults, it is even more important that we add in some form activity into days when we are 'at our desk' for long periods.  Just a walk around the office or up a flight of steps will help to keep blood sugar levels normal.

What could you add into your day?

Can exercise help you stay sharp?

Have you ever wondered what your brain will be like when you got old and whether it will survive the test of time and let you stay sharp until you die?
 Or whether any of the recommended ways to maintain your brain structure and function actually make any difference.  (with exercise being at the top of the list) 
A few years ago, Olga Kotelko, a 93-year-old Canadian track-and-field athlete with more than 30 world records, underwent an analysis of her brain at the University of Illinois.
The findings, reported in the journal Neurocase, offer an insight of the potential effects of exercise on the brains and cognitive abilities of the “oldest old.”
Olga, a retired teacher and mother of two, started her athletic career late in life. She began with softball at age 65, and at 77 took up track-and-field events.  At the time of her death in 2014, she had won 750 gold medals in her age group in World Masters Athletics events, and had set new world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter, high jump, long jump, javelin, discus, shot put and hammer events. 
The researchers had trouble finding a group of reasonably healthy nonagenarians for comparison, so they decided to compare Olga with a group of 58 healthy, low-active women who were 60 to 78 years old.
In one long day at the lab, Olga underwent an MRI brain scan, a cardiorespiratory fitness test on a treadmill and cognitive tests.
According to the lead researcher, at the end of the day Olga looked less tired than the graduate students who were conducting the tests.
The women in the comparison group underwent the same tests and scans.
The researchers wanted to find out whether Olga’s late-life athletic activity had slowed – or perhaps even reversed – some of the processes of aging in her brain.
Typically, the brain shrinks with age and fluid-filled spaces appear between the brain and the skull, and the ventricles enlarge.  The cortex, the outermost layer of cells where all of our thinking takes place, also gets thinner.  White matter tracts, which carry nerve signals between brain regions, tend to lose their structural and functional integrity over time and the hippocampus, which is important to memory, usually shrinks with age.
Previous studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can enhance cognition and boost brain function in older adults, and can even increase the volume of specific brain regions like the hippocampus.
Olga’s brain offered some intriguing first clues about the potentially beneficial effects of her active lifestyle.
Her brain did not seem to have shrunk and her ventricles did not seem to be enlarged.  She did however have obvious signs of advanced aging in the white-matter tracts of some brain regions.
As a whole, however, her white-matter tracts were remarkably intact – comparable to those of women decades younger.  The white-matter tracts in one region of her brain — the genu of the corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres at the very front of the brain — were in great shape.  These white-matter tracts serve a region of the brain that is engaged in tasks – such as reasoning, planning and self-control – that are known to decline fastest in aging.
Olga did not perform as well on cognitive tests as the younger women, but better than other adults her own age who had been tested in an independent study.  She was quicker at responding to the cognitive tasks than other adults in their 90s and on memory she was much better than they were.
Olga is only one person so these findings are only a start toward calculating the effects of exercise on cognition in the oldest old, and it is difficult to arrive at very solid conclusions.
However, it is exciting to see someone who is highly functioning at 93, possessing numerous world records in the athletic field and actually having very high integrity in a brain region that is very sensitive to aging.
While this isn’t a guarantee, hopefully it will encourage you to stay active to keep your brain structure and function intact for as long as possible. 

Is fasting worth it?

As well as exercise, I am often asked about diet and eating, and how nutrition and exercise interact to improve both health and performance.  One question I have had recently is about fasting, so I thought I would discuss fasting and some of its benefits.  
Fasting can be for short periods, such as skipping breakfast or a couple of meals through to a longer fast of a few days.   Fasting isn’t for everyone but more people are considering it as part of their normal routine.
Here are some of the benefits I have uncovered.
Helps Weight Loss
Fasting can be a safe way to lose weight as many studies have shown that intermittent fasting – fasting that is controlled within a set number of hours – allows the body to burn fat more effectively than just regular dieting.
Intermittent fasting allows the body to use fat as it’s primary source of energy instead of sugar..
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Fasting has shown to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, allowing you to tolerate carbohydrates (sugar) better. A study showed that after periods of fasting, insulin becomes more effective in telling cells to take glucose in from the blood.
Improves digestion/metabolism
Intermittent fasting gives your digestive system a rest, and this can stimulate your metabolism to burn calories more efficiently. If your digestion is poor, this can effect your ability to metabolise food and burn fat. Intermittent fasts can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, thus improving your metabolic function.
Promotes Longevity
Studies have shown how the lifespan of people in some countries is increased due to their diets and in particular having reduced food intake. One of the primary effects of ageing is a slower metabolism, the younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism. It is believed that the less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive and metabolic systems so they age more slowly.
Improves Hunger
Fasting helps to regulate the hormones in your body so that you experience what true hunger is. We know that some overweight and obese people do not get the correct signals to let them know they are full.  Fasting acts like a reset button: the longer you fast, the more your body can regulate itself to release the correct hormones , so that you can experience what real hunger is. Not to mention, when your hormones are working correctly, you get full quicker.
Improves Your Eating Patterns
Fasting can be a helpful practice for those who suffer with binge eating disorders, and for those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities.  Intermittent fasting might mean going for a full work shift without eating and then allow you to eat at a set time that fits your lifestyle.
Improves Your Brain Function
Fasting has shown to improve brain, because it boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF.)  BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. This protein also protects your brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Improves Your Immune System
Intermittent fasting improves the immune system because it reduces free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and starves off cancer cell formation.
In nature, when animals get sick they stop eating and instead focus on resting. This is a natural instinct to reduce stress on their internal system so their body can fight off infection. Humans are the only species who look for food when we are ill, even when we do not need it.
So there are a number of benefits of fasting.  While it isn’t for everyone, there is increasing evidence that it helps in a number of chronic conditions and in preventing poor health and ageing.  Best of all, those people who have introduced fasting into their life say they actually feel good while fasting and it helps them eat better when they are not fasting.
If you haven’t tried it, it might be worth considering.  And if you'd like an assessment of your current metabolism before you try fasting let me know.  An initial test and a follow-up some time later will show you how fasting has affected your metabolism.

Get puffed

One of the phrases I use in my presentations to reinforce the importance of vigorous exercise is "Get Puffed."  It reminds people that at least some of the time during their exercise they need to be pushing themselves to the point hat they are breathing hard.

Some recent research by Australian scientists has confirmed what I have been encouraging people to do.  The research involved  more than 200,000 adults over age 45, and is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine .

The participants in the research project were followed for more than six years. 

Those who did vigorous exercise for 30 per cent of their weekly workouts had a mortality rate that was nine to 13 per cent lower than those who did moderate exercise. 

For a long time the belief has been that, up to a point, more exercise is better.  This is because there is a high correlation between amount of exercise and level of fitness; those that did the most exercise are usually the fittest.  

More recently, researchers have starting looking more closely at the type and intensity of exercise rather than the amount. one of the key findings is that high intensity exercise produced similar or better improvements in fitness markers than longer, slower exercise.

This latest study, involving such large number of people, helps to reinforce the fact that for exercise to be as effective as possible and to significantly impact mortality rates it needs to get you metabolism 'cranking.'

[Cranking - an Australian scientific term meaning working hard, going fast, pushing the limits.  It's also a surfing term meaning really big waves] 

The researchers reported that the benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active.  This is great news for busy people as it means you don't need to spend hours jogging around the park or swimming up and down the pool.

The results also found that regardless of whether you are obese or have heart disease or diabetes some vigorous exercise could provide significant health benefits and increase your chance of living longer.

World Health Organization and Australian physical activity guidelines recommend adults to do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week or a combination of both.  This makes people think that they are equally beneficial, which isn't the case.

For a long time I have believed that health authorities have 'watered down" the exercise message by telling people to just move.  Unfortunately it has meant a lot of people spend time doing exercise that isn't really improving their metabolism and getting the maximum health benefits.  

This current research suggests that people should do some higher intensity exercise; enough to get puffed.  

A lot of people, especially older people are worried about pushing themselves too hard.

If you haven't exercised vigorously for some time, talk to your doctor or better still ask them to refer you to an Exercise Physiologist who can show you what to do safely for maximum benefit.

With the right program you can improve your health ad fitness and only have to push yourself hard for a few minutes a week.

Don't let your strength disappear

New research has reported that it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength.

In that short period of time, young people lose about 30 percent of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25 percent of their strength.

The Danish study reported in the  Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that the more muscle a person has, the more they will lose if they are sidelined by an injury, illness or inactive holiday.

According to the researchers, their experiment showed that inactivity affects the muscular strength in young and older men similarly. Having had one leg immobilized for two weeks, young people lose up to a third of their muscular strength, while older people lose approximately a quarter of their strength. A young man who is immobilized for two weeks loses muscular strength in his leg equivalent to aging by 40 or 50 years.

Total muscle mass normally declines with age. Young men have about a kilogram more muscle mass in each leg than older men do. However, after two weeks of not moving at all, the young men involved in the study lost on average almost half a kilogram of muscle whereas older men lost had an average of just over a quarter of a kilogram.

Not surprisingly, all of the men lost physical fitness while their leg was immobilised.

Even though older people lose less muscle mass and their level of fitness is reduced slightly less than in young people, the loss of muscle mass is often more significant for older people, because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life.  It is also likely to increase their risk of falls.

After being immobilized for two weeks, the men who participated in the study trained on an exercise bike three to four times a week for six weeks. This exercise helped the men regain physical fitness, however their muscle strength didn't fully recover in that period of time.

Cycling, and presumably other aerobic activity, is sufficient to help people regain lost muscle mass and get back to their former fitness level. However if you want to regain your muscular strength following a period of inactivity, you need to include strength training.

The researchers highlighted that it takes about three times the amount of time you were inactive to get your muscle mass back.

So what does this mean for you?

Firstly, it is a lot easier to maintain your strength than go for a period of inactivity, lose it and have to work hard to try to regain it.  

Secondly, if you do lose strength due to a reduction in activity because of illness or injury (holidays aren't a good enough excuse!), then you need to do strength training to restore strength; aerobic activity won't do it.

Thirdly, younger people can't assume they can go without any activity for too long, as they will lose their strength quicker than older people do.

Bottom line - don't let your strength disappear. As it takes a lot more effort to get it back than to keep it.

Move more at work

There has been increasing interest in the risk and dangers of sitting for long hours at work.  Individuals are concerned about their own health and companies are probably thinking about potential liability. While there is little doubt that extended periods of minimal activity, whether at home or work, is not a good idea, most people don't understand why it is bad for their health and what they should do.

According to scientists from Kansas State University in the US, the frequency of movement at work is more important than the duration.  This is good news as it means very short breaks, perhaps only minute or two, are effective in preventing the physiological changes that accompany lengthy periods of sitting. 

The researchers identified that when people sit for a long period of time, the body turns off an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase.  This enzyme helps us to use fat for energy, so when it is turned off or down the fat (triglycerides) in the blood can't get out of the blood and into the cells to be used for fuel.  

The other thing that happens to compound this is that sitting for long periods of time will actually reduce insulin sensitivity and increase circulating triglycerides. So not only do triglycerides get stuck in the blood, but there are more of them there to get stuck.   These two things are highly associated with poor chronic health in the long term.

The researchers from Kansas found however that encouraging people to move often, even for small periods of time, stopped lipoprotein lipase levels from dropping and that lots of little changes in a daily work routine can add up to a big change.

Their advice was to get up and stand or take a walk at least once an hour.  When it comes to sitting time, frequent interruptions is what was most important. They suggested people break up prolonged bouts of sitting by getting up and moving, even if only very briefly, throughout the day.

I typically spend a couple of days in an office setting; here are some things that I do to increase the amount of incidental activity I get on those days.

1. Send work to a remote printer - there is a printer in our office but I make a point of walking to another printer in a communal area to collect any printing that I have done.

2. Use a toilet/bathroom on a different floor - there is a toilet directly opposite the door to my office but I make a point of using those down the stairs.  Depending on how much water i remember to drink during the day this can mean an extra 4-6 climbs up two flights of stairs.  And if there is none else on the stairs i will run up them.

3. Walk to talk rather than phone - it is so easy to just hit the autodial and speak to someone in the building, but if the conversation is going to be for more than 20 seconds I will walk to their office to talk to a colleague.  I'll also walk rather than drive to see one group of staff who are located about 800 metres away (not that I have to go there very often).

4. Stand up when on the phone - it's not always possible but if I am using my mobile I will often get up and walk while I am talking to someone.  If your job involves a lot of time on the phone, this could add up to quite a bit of extra movement in a day.

Other ideas include parking further away from work, organising walking or standing meetings or arranging to go for a walk at lunchtime.

While these activities are not likely to be at an intensity that you are going to increase your fitness significantly, by keeping your lipoprotein lipase levels up during the day you are encouraging the cells to burn fat for fuel and from both a weight management and health perspective that's a good thing.

So start adding extra movement into you day.  Not only will you be healthier but you will have more energy and feel less lethargic after a busy day at work.

Too much sitting linked to anxiety

Much has been written lately about the negative effect of too much sitting for nearly every aspect of your health: It weakens your muscles, impairs blood circulation, and increases your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and obesity. But it seems that sitting all day at work, then sitting all night at home in front of the TV, are detrimental to your mental health, too.

A new study by researchers from Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research in Australia found that low-energy activities and sitting appears to make your anxiety worse. Working at a computer all day, watching TV, playing video games, or simply crouching over your phone or laptop in bed are all considered low-energy activities that impact your mental state.

Modern living has seen a big rise of anxiety disorders in recent years. While this increase in anxiety might result from several factors, such as more frequent use of technology and social media or increased traffic congestion and commuting times, the researchers wanted to look at the link between anxiety and sedentary living. 

The study analysed nine different studies that had previously examined anxiety and sedentary behavior. Five of the nine studies found that sedentary behavior was associated with a higher risk of anxiety.

One-third of Australian adults are obese, and almost two-thirds have sedentary lifestyles that fuel obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The mental health consequences of the obesity epidemic haven't been examined, though plenty of studies have associated lack of physical activity with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.  When your day is especially sedentary, make the choice to take a step outside and go for a thirty minute walk. The exercise, and hopefully time spent in nature, will do your body and mind good.

The goal of the scientists was to understand the behavioral factors that may be linked to anxiety, in the hope of developing evidence-based strategies to prevent/manage this condition. The researchers concluded that the evidence suggests a positive association between sitting time and anxiety symptoms. The point out however, that the direction of this relationship still needs to be determined through longitudinal and interventional studies.

Regardless of the direction of the relationship, from a physiological perspective, physical activity and increased metabolic fitness gives you an increased capacity to handle the body's anxiety response.

Source: Teychenne M, Costigan S, Parker K. The association between sedentary behaviour and risk of anxiety: A Systematic Review. BMC Public Health, 2015.

Being too thin not good for your brain

In the largest study ever to look at relationships between body weight and likelihood of developing dementia, researchers found that being too thin appears to carry the greatest risk.
Among nearly two million people in the U.K. observed over time, those who were underweight had the highest dementia risk in old age, and the risk continued to drop with rising body mass index (BMI) - a measure of weight relative to height.
The observations contradict many previous, much smaller, studies that tied obesity to increased dementia risk.
The analysis included two million people followed for up to two decades; more than 10 times the number of people analyzed in all previous studies.
For their analysis, published in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the researchers used a database of medical information about U.K. residents. 
The data covered 1,958,191 people who were between 45 and 66 years old at the start of the observations, and free of dementia symptoms or diagnoses. People were followed for an average of nine years, and by the end of the study period some 45,000 people had been diagnosed with dementia. 
The study team calculated the participants’ starting BMIs and looked at risk of dementia in different weight categories.
Compared with people of a healthy weight (BMI of 20-24.9), those who were underweight - with a BMI less than 20 - had a 34 percent higher risk of dementia. 
The risk of dementia continued to fall as BMI increased, and very obese people (BMI over 40) had a 29 percent lower risk of dementia than healthy weight people. 
Compared to people at the median BMI for the entire group, around 26-27, underweight people had a 64 percent higher risk of dementia. 
The authors adjusted for some other possible factors that could influence dementia risk, such as age, sex, smoking, alcohol use, history of stroke and heart attack and use of blood pressure or statin drugs. 
They also examined rates of death in all weight categories and found that underweight people were at the highest risk of dying, followed by those who were very obese. People who were modestly overweight were slightly less likely than those in the healthy BMI range to die. And the lowest risk of death was at a BMI of 26. 
The scientists cautioned that the study results should not change the current recommendations on attaining a healthy body weight since they also found that overweight and obese people had a higher risk of death.
There is more research needed in this area but if I was to draw one possible conclusion from these findings it is that losing muscle mass and becoming frail put you at increased risk of dementia, as well as many other chronic conditions.I have often said that the health challenge for under 50-year-olds is to not put on too much fat, while the challenge for over 50's is to not lose too much muscle.  Most older adults who do some exercise do aerobic exercise.  Not enough do strength or muscle-saving exercise, as they don't know what to do or how to do it.
 If you fit into that category, I'd encourage you to find out about strength training.  As well as saving your muscles, it could save your mind.

Why it's easier for some people to lose weight

There is no doubt that the lifestyle choices you make are the major factor in health and fitness, however it is clear that genetics plays a part in how your lifestyle choices impact your physiology and metabolism as a new study has just shown.  

The study from The University of Arizona (where I studied many years ago) found that some women get more benefit than others from doing the same type of exercise; and their genes are part of the reason why.

The women in the study who had certain genetic markers gained weight after following a strength training program for a year, whereas women who didn't have those markers lost weight after following the same regimen, researchers said. The researchers looked at genes that have been linked in previous studies with an increased risk of obesity.

According to the researchers the findings indicate that women whose genes predispose them to obesity need to do more exercise to lose weight, and may also need to pay more attention to their diet.

In the study, the scientists examined DNA samples from 84 women ages 30 to 65, focusing on genes linked with obesity. The body mass indexes (BMIs) of the women at the beginning of the study ranged from 19 (normal) to 33 (obese) and they were asked not to change their diets during the study.

The investigators had all the women engage in high-intensity resistance exercise and moderate-impact exercise with weights for at least one hour, three days a week, for a year. In the analysis of the effects the exercise  on the women, the researchers grouped them based on their genetic risk of obesity.

The researchers found that exercise had a greater effect on both weight loss and body fat in the women whose genetic risk of obesity was lower, compared with the women whose genetic risk was higher.

Women whose genes put them at a high risk of obesity gained an average of 1.2 kg during the study period, whereas women whose genes put them at a low risk of obesity lost 1.3 kg.

The researchers found that women whose genes put them at a high risk of obesity maintained the same percentage of body fat over the study period, whereas women whose genes put them at a low risk of obesity lost an average of 2.7 percent of their body fat.

The study shows that the outcome people get from exercise is going to depend on their genetics, in this case their risk of obesity.

How this works is not fully understood but I suggest it is linked to what fuels the body prefers to use, both at rest and during exercise.

I have recently been lucky enough to get access to a device that measures resting metabolism, what fuels a person is using and how efficient the cells are.  Up until now this technology has been restricted predominantly to research institutions, so while I might have had some idea I couldn't quantify it.  What this has allowed is for clients to get a more accurate measure of whether they are fat-burners or not.  

If you are not genetically predisposed to burn fat it is difficult to lose body fat, however the good news is that changing diet and exercise can alter a person's preferences and increase the amount of fat they burn, not just while exercising but also at rest.

Genetics will always play a part, but armed with this information, I can help people both understand why they have been struggling to reduce their body fat and recommend a diet and exercise plan that is going to help them become fat-burners and more efficient at producing energy in the cells. 

While this isn't a guarantee that everyone can get down to single digit body fat levels (which isn't essential for good health anyway), it does give individuals better information to play the hand they were dealt and let them focus on things they can change.

Strength training fights metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the name used to define a group of risk factors that puts you increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and premature death. Metabolic syndrome becomes more common as people age, and anyone with at least three of five specific risk factors may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors:

  • Having a large waistline or an “apple” shape, or carrying most of your excess weight in your abdominal area as opposed to the hips and other parts of the body.
  • Having a high triglyceride level or being on medication to treat high triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat stored in the blood.
  • Having a low HDL cholesterol level increases risk of heart disease. HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from the arteries.
  • Having high blood pressure or being on medication to treat high blood pressure.
  • Having high blood sugar or being on medication for high blood sugar. Elevated blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

Most people think of aerobic exercise to prevent the factors that lead to metabolic syndrome, but strength training can also improve risk factors for metabolic syndrome and decrease risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and premature death.

You don’t have to be a body builder to reduce your risk. A simple, well-designed, well-balanced program that can be done 30 minutes twice a week is sufficient to protect you from increased risk of metabolic syndrome as well as cancer, osteoporosis and loss of muscle tissue.

After the age of 40, we lose eight to 10 percent of muscle mass every decade (and for many we gain fat to keep our weight steady or even creep up kilo or two). Fat cells bind insulin making it less available for the body to use and less effective, which results in glucose intolerance, elevated insulin levels, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood). Associated with the lack of muscle mass is decreased insulin sensitivity, increased adipose (fatty) tissue and decreased bone density.

A number of studies have shown that resistance training, either alone or in combination with aerobic training,  improves insulin sensitivity and, therefore, glucose tolerance. Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of the adults do  the minimum recommended amount of strength training - performing strength training exercises twice a week including all major muscle groups (back, chest, legs, arms and core).

One of the reasons many people, especially older adults, don't do strength training is they aren't confident of doing it correctly or just don't know what to do; and they are put off by commercial gyms. Fortunately it is possible to get adequate resistance exercise in your own home with minimal equipment. If you are unfamiliar with strength training or if it has been a while since you’ve lifted weights, consulting a university trained exercise physiologist is a good starting point.

Fat ends up as carbon dioxide

You may have read an article in the last week or so about some Sydney researchers reporting on where fat goes when you lose weight.

The researchers from the University of New South Wales stated that despite a worldwide obsession with diets and fitness regimes, many health professionals cannot correctly answer the question of where body fat goes when people lose weight.

The most common misconception among doctors, dieticians and personal trainers is that the missing mass has been converted into energy or heat.

According to the scientists, the correct answer is that most of the mass is breathed out as carbon dioxide. It goes into thin air.

In the research paper, published in the British Medical Journal, the authors show that losing 10 kilograms of fat requires 29 kilograms of oxygen to be inhaled and that this metabolic process produces 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide and 11 kilograms of water.

The scientists approach to the biochemistry of weight loss was to trace every atom in the fat being lost. 

If you follow the atoms in 10 kilograms of fat as they are 'lost', 8.4 of those kilograms are exhaled as carbon dioxide through the lungs. The remaining 1.6 kilograms becomes water, which may be excreted in urine, faeces, sweat, breath, tears and other bodily fluids.

"This violates the Law of Conservation of Mass. We suspect this misconception is caused by the energy in/energy out mantra surrounding weight loss," the researchers state.

Some respondents thought the metabolites of fat were excreted in faeces or converted to muscle.

One of the most frequently asked questions the authors have encountered is whether simply breathing more can cause weight loss. The answer is no. Breathing more than required by a person's metabolic rate leads to hyperventilation, which can result in dizziness, palpitations and loss of consciousness.

One of the things I think the researchers failed to state clearly is that carbon dioxide and water are produced as a result of metabolising fat. And while the fat isn't converted to energy, it is in the process of using fat for energy that the body creates carbon dioxide and water.

And the important point to remember is that the fitter you are, the better your muscles and cells are at using fat, creating carbon dioxide and producing energy.

Running might be good for your knees

One of the questions I get asked a lot is "will running cause arthritis in my knees?" 

I've usually answered by saying "as long as you don't do too much, wear the right shoes, have a good running style and don't carry too much weight, your knees should be okay." 

A recent study has confirmed my response that running doesn't lead to osteoarthritis of the knees and showed that it may even help protect a person from developing the painful disease.

The research was presented at the last American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in Boston.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disease affecting middle-age and older people. It is characterized by progressive damage to the joint cartilage, the cushioning material at the end of long bones. This damage then causes changes in the structures around the joint including fluid accumulation, bony overgrowth, and loosening and weakness of muscles and tendons, all of which may limit movement and cause pain and swelling.

Knee osteoarthritis is a common form of OA and is caused by cartilage breakdown in the knee joint. Factors that can increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis include: being overweight, age, injury or stress to the joints and having a family history.

Past research on a possible connection between running and knee OA has focused on elite male runners, who are not necessarily typical of middle-aged people just wanting to maintain a reasonable level of fitness. They typically have lower body weights and efficient running styles.

To find out if regular running would increase knee OA risk for the general population, the researchers used data from a large multi-centre study, the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI). Of the 2,683 participants, 56 percent were female, the mean age was 64.5 and the mean BMI was 28.6. Twenty-nine percent of the participants reported that they ran at some time in their lives.

Participants had knee X-rays, were given symptom assessments, and were asked to complete the Lifetime Physical Activity Questionnaire (LPAQ), identifying the top three most frequently performed physical activities (≥ 10 times in life) they performed at different age ranges throughout their life. Age ranges included 12-18, 19-34, 35-49, and 50 years or older.

At the four-year visit, knee X-rays were taken and then scored for evidence of osteoarthritis. The researchers also measured if participants had frequent knee pain at that visit. Researchers considered a participant to have symptomatic OA if they had at least one knee with both x-ray evidence and frequent knee pain. 

After collecting all the data, the researchers reported that runners, regardless of the age when they ran, had a lower prevalence of knee pain, X-ray evidence and symptoms than non-runners. 

They concluded that regular running, even at a non-elite level, not only does not increase the risk of developing knee OA but may protect against it.

This study does not address the question of whether or not running is harmful to people who have pre-existing knee OA. However, in people who do not have knee OA, there is no reason to restrict participation in habitual running at any time in life from the perspective that it does not appear to be harmful to the knee joint.

Good news if you enjoy running. 

Bad news if you use increased risk as an excuse!!

Measure your health risk

Would you want to know if you were at increased risk of certain health issues?

If you knew your risk of heart disease or cancer was high, would you make changes in your life to reduce your risk?

I've just read an article about genomic testing on the Starts at Sixty site. Here is an excerpt - 

Finding out our medical future is not that far into the future, with researchers saying that Australians will be able to find out if they will develop cancer, diabetes, heart and other diseases, through a medical breakthrough - genomic testing - within the next 5 years.

Currently, we have to send our blood samples overseas but this is set to change with the Garvan Institute bringing the analysis to us.

By 2019, Australians seeking the genomic testing will register with the National Association of Testing Authorities and have the test within 12 months. This could completely change our society and the way we look at health and Professor John Mattick, executive director at Garvan Institute, told The Daily Telegraph that "This is the equivalent of the introduction of vaccination in the twentieth century".

So how much will it cost? Around $2000 at first but depending on demand, it could be down to only a few hundred dollars...and we bet that many will be interested to know their health future.


What if you could do a test now that would give you an overall rating of your future health without having to pay thousands of dollars? 

You can.

It's a test of your current level of fitness.

People with a low level of fitness, regardless of age or weight or genetic make-up, have approximately double the risk of dying (and getting a chronic condition) as those of the same age, weight or make-up with a high level of fitness. 

Even if you are genetically pre-disposed to some condition, exercising regularly and being fit may well limit the impact of that condition on you.

Here is a website that will give you an estimate of your level of fitness compared to other people of the same age.

If you want a more accurate assessment or a more comprehensive evaluation, seeing an Exercise Physiologist is a good place to start. 

If you are in WA drop me a line and I will suggest someone.

Join a peleton to stay on track

I know what you're thinking.

There is no way I am getting on a bike and riding around like all those middle-aged men seem to do nowadays.

I'm not actually suggesting you take up cycling or race out and buy lycra clothing, but there are some valuable lessons to be learnt from the peleton.

Here are some advantages of cycling in a group that apply whether you are cycling or not.

Regular routine

Most cycling groups meet at a set time on the same days each week. They typically do the same ride or rides each week so everyone knows what to expect and what they are doing. This helps people to form a regular exercise program and arrange their life around it. Consistency is one of the keys to lifelong fitness so having a regular routine extremely valuable.

Get dragged along by the group

Everyone has days when they just don't feel like exercising. The value of a group is that on those days you only have to turn up at the starting point and you get dragged along by the energy of the group. Some times the days you least feel like exercising are the days you need it most and just getting to the start is all you need to get it done.

Share the workload

In a cycling peleton, the rider at the front of the group is working harder than those behind due to reduced wind resistance. By sharing the 'work' at the front of the group everyone can go faster and exercise at a higher intensity. This makes it both more fun and more effective. The other advantage is that on days when you are not feeling strong you can 'sit inland get dragged along by those that are having a good day.

Get pushed at times

Most cycling groups have sections of the ride where they push a bit faster and maybe even have as sprint to a certain point, like a sign or light pole. This effectively builds a high intensity interval or tow into the session. We know that intensity is important to make exercise effective so having a few 'sprints' achieves this.

Safety in numbers

Cycling on the roads can be dangerous if drivers can't see you. Being in a group makes you more visible and less likely to be missed. Similarly, running, walking and swimming by yourself is more of a risk than doing it with someone else. Things can happen when exercising so having a buddy along makes it safer.

Social interaction

We know that the benefits of exercise are not just physiological and that the social interaction that occurs while exercising, plays an important part in many people's lives. For some, the people they see more than anyone else is their exercise group and often close friendships develop.

Set group challenges

It is not uncommon for exercise groups to plan special 'events' to do together. This might be a charity event, a competition or even a holiday based around their shared exercise. This has the benefit of giving group members a shared goal and a reason to train. Both of these give individuals added motivation to keep active, especially over the winter months when truing is harder to do.

Check when you stop turning up

One of the under-rated benefits of being part of an exercise group is that if for some reason you don't turn up for a few sessions, someone will often give you a call to see if you are okay and give you a nudge to turn up to the next session.

Exercising by yourself relies on a lot of self-discipline and dedication. If you find yourself lacking in either of these from time-to-time perhaps forming an exercise 'peleton' might be the way to go.

Joining an existing group or forming one might be the difference between sticking at your exercise plan during the cold of winter or when life gets busy. Joining a gym is another way to add the group effect. Even if you do your own workout just catching up with others at the gym on a regular basis might be the incentive you need to turn up some days.

Don't let sitting kill you

We have been hearing a lot lately about the risks of sitting for long periods. People are even calling it the "new smoking" in terms of risk to health.

However, it seems combating the negative effects of sitting isn't all that difficult to achieve.

A study from Indiana University has found that three easy 5-minute walks can reverse the harm caused to leg arteries during three hours of sitting.

When you sit, your muscles do not contract to effectively pump blood back to the heart. Blood can pool in the legs and this can affect the function of arteries limiting their ability to expand when there is increased blood flow.

While there is plenty of epidemiological evidence linking sitting time to various chronic diseases and linking breaking sitting time to beneficial cardiovascular effects, this study is the first experimental evidence of these effects.

The research showed that prolonged sitting impairs endothelial function, which is an early marker of cardiovascular disease, and that breaking sitting time prevents the decline in that function.

The researchers were able to demonstrate that during a three-hour period the expansion of the arteries as a result of increased blood flow of the main artery in the legs was impaired by as much as 50 percent after just one hour. The study participants who walked for 5 minutes each hour of sitting saw their arterial function stay the same — it did not drop throughout the three-hour period.

The study involved 11 non-obese, healthy men between the ages of 20-35 who participated in two randomized trials. In one trial they sat for three hours without moving their legs. Researchers used a blood pressure cuff and ultrasound technology to measure the functionality of the femoral artery at baseline and again at the one-, two- and three-hour mark.

In the second trial, the men sat during a three-hour period but also walked on a treadmill for 5 minutes at a speed of 2 mph at the 30-minute mark, 1.5-hour mark and 2.5-hour mark. Researchers measured the functionality of the femoral artery at the same intervals as in the other trial.

So if you sit for work or to watch TV, just getting up at least once per hour might be enough to prevent the loss of ability of the arteries to expand. I'm not suggesting that this is enough exercise to optimise your health but at least it keeps the arteries from losing this very important capacity.

How exercise protects you from depression

There is no doubt that mental health is becoming a major concern for individuals, families, health professionals and the community at large. Researchers and the medical profession are working hard to better understand these conditions in the hope of finding ways to prevent and treat them.

While genetics plays a part in who suffers from these conditions, it is widely accepted that lifestyle plays a significant role in increasing or decreasing the severity of these conditions.

For many people exercise helps to manage their mental health however how it helps still not fully understood.

A recent study has shed more light on the mechanisms by which exercise helps to protect people from stress-induced depression.

In this study, published in the journal Cell, researchers at Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed that exercise in mice induces changes in muscle that can clear the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress and is harmful to the brain.

The researchers state that their findings provide an explanation for the protective biochemical changes induced by physical exercise that prevent the brain from being damaged during stress.

It is known that a protein PGC-1α1 (pronounced PGC-1alpha1) increases in skeletal muscle with exercise. In this study researchers used a genetically modified mouse with high levels of PGC-1α1 in skeletal muscle that shows many characteristics of well-trained muscles.

These mice, and normal control mice, were exposed to a stressful environment, such as loud noises, flashing lights and disrupted sleep patterns (the equivalent of night shifts) at irregular intervals.

After five weeks of mild stress, normal mice had developed depressive behaviour, whereas the genetically modified mice (with well-trained muscle characteristics) had no symptoms of depression.

The researchers initially thought that the trained muscle would produce a substance that would protect the brain. What they actually found was that well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances associated with depression.

For the wanna-be biochemists, the researchers discovered that mice with higher levels of PGC-1α1 in muscle also had higher levels of enzymes called KAT. KATs convert a substance formed during stress (kynurenine) into kynurenic acid, a substance that is not able to pass from the blood to the brain.

The exact function of kynurenine is not known, but high levels of kynurenine can apparently be measured in patients with mental illness.

In this study, the researchers demonstrated that when normal mice were given kynurenine, they displayed depressive behaviour, while mice with increased levels of PGC-1α1 in muscle were not affected. In fact, these animals never show elevated kynurenine levels in their blood since the KAT enzymes in their well-trained muscles quickly convert it to kynurenic acid, resulting in a protective mechanism.

This study helps reinforce that depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are physical illnesses where the body's chemistry is changed.

Exercise plays a major role in balancing the body's chemistry and as this study demonstrates, is an essential part of optimising mental health.

If you suffer from mental health challenges, and even if you don't, the right exercise can help to keep your brain free of the damaging substances that accumulate with stress.