Just 20 minutes!

We’ve heard time and again that being obese or overweight is, of course, not good for your long-term health. The same goes for being inactive and rarely exercising, no matter what you weigh.

Now, new research finds that being sedentary is the more deadly of the two.

BUT…

The research also notes that a brisk walk — as short as 20 minutes — can help counteract the dangers.

clock-36965The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and was just published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers analyzed about 12 years worth of information on 334,000 men and women, including height, weight, waist circumference and self-reported levels of physical activity.

The researchers state that a moderate amount of physical activity (compared with none) was the key to lowering the chances of premature death. They estimated that it could reduce that risk by 16 to 30 percent. By “moderate,” they mean that which burns about 100 calories a day.

Twenty minutes goes by in a flash — it’s about the time it would take to iron an outfit for work, zip across town to go to the post office, watch most of an episode of your favorite sitcom (FF’ing through commercials).

Or … squeeze in a life-saving walk!

One million bucks

That’s about how much was raised by participants in the Alliance for Lupus Research‘s 5K walk for lupus in New York City on Saturday.

I participated in the walk and I’m proud to say that friends and coworkers of mine donated $503 (yep, $503, not $500) toward the cause on my behalf, which I augmented with a donation of my own. One hundred percent of donations will be used toward research efforts. (And it’s not too late to donate, even though the walk has occurred: Click here.)

30-year friends, walking for a cause

30-year friends, ready to walk for a cause

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I signed up to participate in this event to support one of my oldest friends, who has been battling lupus for 13 years. I’ve seen the ups and downs she has experienced with this tough illness — which include severe joint pain, extreme fatigue and other symptoms that have an awful impact on quality of life — and was pleased to join her in this event.

It seems counterintuitive, but exercise is vital for helping people with chronic conditions (in most cases) have better health and mobility. People suffering from joint pain, for instance, might feel that to go out for a walk would make the pain worse. But the opposite is generally true. (Refer to my recent post, “Walking and arthritis,” for more info.)

The event day was sunny and beautiful, and the 5K crowd, in the thousands, was varied. Many people had formed teams, and team captains spoke before the walk’s start about how they were there to support loved ones who are fighting lupus or even have lupus themselves. The walk’s course started at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on NYC’s west side, went south to the Chelsea Piers complex, and back.

It was so inspiring to be a part of this cause, to help contribute toward research efforts and, most of all, to support my dear friend. I’m already thinking ahead to next year and how many people we can get to join us on event day! A two-person team is just a start.

Walking and arthritis

For people who have osteoarthritis that affects their lower limbs, it may feel contrary to walk as exercise. It’s valid to think that it might increase pain and other unwelcome effects of this degenerative condition.

But a new study shows, in fact, that a certain amount of walking can actually reduce how much knee osteoarthritis limits your ability to keep moving.

stairs-3868Walking 6,000 or more steps a day may help protect people who have knee OA from having problems with mobility — think of being able to do activities such as going up the stairs or rising from a chair.

The study was conducted by researchers at Sargent College at Boston University and was published in Arthritis Care & Research earlier this year. Researchers noted that 80 percent of OA patients find their movement to be hampered. The researchers sought to learn if more walking would bring about better functioning and, if so, how much more walking.

While boosting one’s daily step count by 1,000 did show an improvement in function (about 18 percent), the optimal benchmark to shoot for seems to be at least 6,000 steps.

That amount of steps equals roughly 2.5 to 3 miles, which might sound like a lot. But you’d be surprised how fast steps add up. It’s easy to jack up your total, by doing things like parking a bit further away at the supermarket, using the bathroom at the other end of the office, or adding an extra block to your usual stroll.

Your knees will thank you.

(And thanks to a loyal reader of Walk With Joelle for the story idea.)

Pumping iron: Give it a try!

Walking is a terrific form of exercise, but as I note here, any walking program should be complemented by other forms of exercise, including strength training.

The CDC recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. (That’s in addition to its advice to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.)

strong-310874However, the CDC has found in a new study that only 23.7 percent of us ages 45 or older meet that recommendation. Further, that group is most likely to include women, widows, people 85 or older, people who are obese, Hispanics, and those who didn’t graduate from high school.

I am a 45-year-old woman, and I have to confess that in the past, most weeks I would barely meet that two-day minimum, unless I was taking a class at my gym. I think I tended to feel that strength-training didn’t provide as intense or get-my-blood-pumping a workout, and if I were going to work out, I wanted to feel like I did, sweat rivulets as proof.

But over the past few months I’ve managed to work strength training into my routine more often, and circuit training is the means. Due to a change in my work schedule, my workout time on weekdays became more constrained — 30 minutes, firm.

Some days I do aerobic activity, sure. But on others, I do an interval workout. After warming up for a few minutes, I do one minute of activity, take 20 seconds to change moves, then do another minute of activity, and so on, for 11 or 12 sets, ending with a couple minutes of cool-down.

During those one-minute intervals, I do various strength-training moves. I use dumbbells, machines at my gym and my body weight. Ideally I’ll do combo moves, such as squats standing to a shoulder press, to work both arms and legs. Every few intervals, I throw in a minute of cardio, such as jumping rope or running the stairs at the gym.

To my surprise, this does make me feel like I got a good workout. Knowing that I have just 30 minutes makes me focus and do my best to get the most out of it.

And I can feel assured that I’ll reap the benefits of strength training — among them, higher metabolism, (hopefully) more toned body parts and an improved ability to easily do activities of daily living.

So pick up a dumbbell and give it a try, or use your body weight to do exercises in any setting you like. Your body will thank you!

Not so sweet

Pretty much anytime you read or hear about exercise as a means to a healthy life, nutrition is mentioned next. They certainly go hand in hand.

Mmmm ... brownies.

Mmmm … brownies.

And just as it’s not always easy to find the motivation to exercise, it can be difficult to always follow a healthy, nutritious diet. I sure can attest to both. In my adult years, I’ve lost a total of 50 pounds over time, but have battled with that last 10 pounds, back and forth.

And my exercise has ranged from a big fat load of nothing to a list of physical accomplishments that includes four full marathons, a dozen half marathons and a 10-mile race thrown in for good measure.

I know I’m not alone when I say that my best intentions don’t always win out. I never met a dish of ice cream or a brownie that I could easily turn down. On the flip side, I’ve been known to binge on fresh summer fruit, too. (Is it bad to eat two mangoes in one sitting? They’re just SO good.)

Boooo ... sugar.

Boooo … sugar.

I know many people who have tried a sugar-free diet, both as a constant way of living and as a way to reset their systems. In the latter approach, they spent several days with zero sugar — not even in natural forms, like fruit — and slowly reintroduced it to their diets. Ultimately the intention is to weed out as much added sugar as possible. Natural sugar is not a bad thing, the key word being natural. But added sugar has no nutritional value and no reason for being, other than making foods sweeter and setting us up for a lifetime of cravings.

It’s an understatement to say that there’s a boatload of research on how bad added sugar is for us. There’s a new study that not only links it to heart disease but to a higher risk for death. Another study found that fructose (a form of added sugar) can create a domino effect that causes our “I’m full” sensor to essentially malfunction. Yet another looked at the link between sugar consumption and decreased brainpower. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Research also shows that sugar consumption creates a vicious cycle. You consume it, you crave it, you consume more, you crave more… you get the idea.

So: How much sugar is OK? What kind of sugar is OK? The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day, or about 6 teaspoons’ worth, from added sugars. (For men, it’s 150 calories and 9 teaspoons.)

OK ... in moderation.

Way more than a daily allotment!

For mathematical purposes when you’re reading nutrition labels, 4 g of sugar = 1 teaspoon. So if you’re eating one granola bar that contains chocolate chips that has 12 g of sugar (as I saw on a label of one today), there’s 3 teaspoons, or half your allotment for the day. From one 4-inch granola bar!

It can be hard to determine what portion of the sugars listed on a label are natural and what portion is not. The AHA offers great information about this and much more, here.

Aside from information sharing, my purpose in posting this topic is to share my experience in going sugar-free. For the past 6 days, I’ve been participating in a sugar-free diet test panel. I spent the first 4 days with zero sugar, natural or otherwise. Yesterday, I was able to add fruit back in, along with one serving of refined whole grain.

I had previously scoffed quite seriously at friends who tried this diet. I believe in all things in moderation, I said. Cutting something out just sets you up to really crave the taboo item, I asserted.

So what changed? I read more of the research. I took into consideration my friends’ raves about how great they felt. I realized that I needed a reset of my own — a final piece of the puzzle, if you will, in trying to live as healthfully as possible and eat cleanly.

Yum ... natural sweetness! / Photo by Chris M. Junior

Yum … natural sweetness! / Photo credit: Chris M. Junior

Do I miss ice cream? Yes. Surprisingly, I’m really craving some pizza. (Tomato sauce is generally loaded with sugar, and the white dough ain’t so great, either.) But I’m finding that I can survive without my daily Diet Coke, and that I can pass up the doughnuts and M&M’s in the office. I still love fresh fruit and consider it a yummy treat. And the more days that go by on my “eating clean” calendar, the better and more revved-up I feel. (The weight loss is a welcome side effect too!)

I still believe in “all things in moderation” — but I don’t think I was eating sugars in moderation. I’ll revisit the topic at the end of the test panel time period and let you know how I’m feeling then. In the meantime, I welcome feedback and/or comments if you’ve tried this way of eating yourself.

Thinking caps and walking shoes

New research has found that walking boosts your creativity — 81 percent of people studied were more creative when walking than sitting.

“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas,” the researchers state, “and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”

Researchers at Stanford University tested subjects on creative thinking while the subjects were walking and seated as well as after they walked. Scores were higher for the walkers than the sitters, but the post-walkers also showed improved scores, what the researchers called a residual effect. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

So: Feeling stumped? Trying to determine how to proceed on a project, a task, a plan? Take a walk, and the light bulb over your head might just illuminate.

Walking and Alzheimer’s disease

New research is examining the link between an older person’s walking speed and his or her risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers reviewed data on almost 27,000 people from 17 countries who were at least 60 years old and did not have dementia.

The researchers used simple methods to measure walking speed and cognitive abilities,  and they followed a portion of the study group for 12 years to see how many developed dementia. The researchers discovered that people who had motoric cognitive risk syndrome, which is characterized by slowing walking speeds and cognitive lapses, were more than twice as likely to develop dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is one type) over that 12-year period. “Slowing walking speeds” was defined as slower than 2.2 miles per hour.

It’s important to note that decreased walking speed alone is not a sign of impending Alzheimer’s — the combination with cognitive problems is important.

One more reason to get into the habit now of walking as a workout.

In fact, another new study suggests that, along with several other lifestyle measures, regular exercise might help reduce your odds of developing Alzheimer’s.

Done safely and with good form, exercise can help you prevent a host of health problems. And walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise there is.

Walking and stroke risk

I touched on health benefits of walking in my first post, and research is always bolstering those claims.

Here’s an example, as published in the journal Stroke.

Women who walked two or more hours weekly lowered stroke risk by 30 percent. Those who kept the pace up — about 3 to 4 miles per hour — dropped their risk by 37 percent. The study followed nearly 40,000 women ages 45 or older.

Find more info here: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/41/6/1243.long.