Physical activity as medicine
*Regular exercise helps make heart stronger, lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow
*Vigorous session improves sleep, helps curb low-grade inflammation in children
*Drinking coffee before activity may help burn more fat, researchers find
*Eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables daily could boost muscle function
More reasons have emerged why most medical practitioners now recommend increased exercise or rather physical activity as medicine.
Doctors are unanimous that regular exercise such as walking tops 15 natural ways to combat high blood pressure. They say regular exercise helps make one’s heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which lowers the pressure in the arteries.
In fact, they say 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, per week, can help lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
Scientists have demonstrated in recent studies how exercise increases blood flow to the brain; can modulate various parameters associated with improved sleep, and helps curb low-grade inflammation in children. Even as other studies found drinking coffee before exercise may help burn more fat, and eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables every day could boost muscle function.
A new movement formed by Exercise is Medicine (EIM) and the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) has recommended adequate physical activity as a potent force in the fight against COVID-19. They said the role of physical activity in regulating immunity and providing optimum health for people with non-communicable diseases are germane in the fight against the pandemic.
Indeed, globalisation and urbanisation have brought rapid changes in lifestyle and the consequences of decreased physical activity, increased sedentary living, unhealthy diets, and increased tobacco use, with rising in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). NCDs, especially cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality as reflected in the past 18 months even with the COVID-19 pandemic all over the world.
Chairman of physical activity committee, Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF) and Director, Exercise is Medicine (EIM) Nigeria National Centre, Prof. Fatai Adeniyi, told journalists at a press conference organised ahead of the 2021 World Physical Activity Day (WOPAD) that considering the global surge in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart diseases among others, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes expedient to reiterate the benefits of being physical activities for all generations of people.
The theme for the first WOPAD adopted by NHF is “Exercise for a Healthy Heart.” The press conference was organised by the NHF in collaboration with EIM, Nigeria National Centre, the Advisory Board, and the Ambassadors.
Adeniyi said physical activity when adopted by everyone has the benefit of preventing, maintaining, and controlling the complexities surrounding non-communicable disease onset, progression, and complications. “While these aforementioned benefits are probably well known about non-communicable diseases, it is necessary to emphasis that adequate physical activity can serve as a potent force in the fight against COVID-19 as the role of physical activity in regulating immunity and providing optimum health for people with noncommunicable diseases are germane in the fight against the pandemic,” he said.
Adeniyi said the EIM Global Centre and the Nigeria National Centre are profoundly committed to the adoption of health-enhancing physical activity among the general population. They, however, believe there is a wide gap between what people know about physical activity and what they practise. “Therefore, as we celebrate the 2021 World Physical Activity Day, the EIM Nigeria calls on individuals, groups, corporate entities, traditional institutions, government and non-governmental agencies including all policy influencers and makers to pay more attention to the issues around physical activity at every level of our daily routines to narrow the gap between knowledge and actual uptake of physical activity,” he said.
Executive Director, NHF, Dr. Kingsley Akinroye, said that the discussion about physical activity has been on for many decades; hence it is not a new innovation.
Akinroye, however, the WOPAD is a day set aside to propagate in stronger terms, the benefits inherent in the adoption of physical activity. The cardiologist said the WOPAD celebrated globally on April 6 every year features various programmes to enhance the uptake of physical activity by the general public. “For the year 2021, the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) Nigeria is organising series of events in Osogbo, the Osun State capital on April 6 and 10, 2021. The programmes include radio and other sensitization talks, health screening and counselling on physical activity, group physical exercise sessions, and working Gyms and Wellness Centres in Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Abakaliki, and Osogbo,” he said.
Akinroye said the EIM Nigeria, domiciled and nurtured by the Nigerian Heart Foundation is an agency of the American College of Sports Medicine, with its headquarters in Indianapolis, United States of America (USA), but with a global presence in over 40 countries. He said Nigeria is one of the three countries in Africa with this global presence and NHF is proud to be part of this global family.
The cardiologist said WOPAD provides a unique opportunity for the EIM to reach out to the different strata of the community, as it is an opportunity to further reinforce the core visions of the EIM. Akinroye said the EIM visions include: making health care providers assess every patient’s level of physical activity at every clinic visit; determining if the patient is meeting physical activity guidelines; providing patients with brief counselling to help him/her meet the guidelines; and/or refering the patient to either health care or community-based resources/experts for further physical activity counselling and guidance.
Akinroye said: “We use the medium to call on individuals, groups, corporate entities, traditional institutions, government and non-governmental agencies including all policy influencers and makers to pay more attention to the issues around physical activity at every level of our daily routines to narrow the gap between knowledge and actual uptake of physical activity.”
Meanwhile, physical exercise has long been prescribed as a way to improve the quality of sleep. But now, researchers from Japan have found that even when exercise causes objectively measured changes in sleep quality, these changes may not be subjectively perceptible.
In a study published last month in Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have revealed that vigorous exercise was able to modulate various sleep parameters associated with improved sleep, without affecting subjective reports regarding sleep quality.
Exercise is known to improve overall sleep quality by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increasing the power of brain waves during slow-wave sleep (SWS), also known as deep sleep.
However, studies investigating the link between exercise and sleep have produced a range of contradictory results, likely due to limitations related to systems of classifying sleep stages. The researchers at the University of Tsukuba aimed to address this using the coefficient of variation of the envelope (CVE), which is a new computational method for analysing brain signals like those collected in sleep research.
Individuals who engage in vigorous exercise may perceive a decrease in the quality of their sleep compared with if they had not exercised at all.
However, the findings of this study indicate that the sleep structure may indeed be improved by exercise and have potential application in developing new treatment recommendations for various sleep disorders.
Also, previous research has shown an association between caffeine consumption and increased exercise performance. However, limited data exist on whether caffeine increases the body’s ability to burn fat.
Using graded exercise tests on inactive men, scientists examined the effect of caffeine on the oxidation of fat in morning and afternoon workout sessions.
The investigators found evidence to suggest that ingesting the amount of caffeine equivalent to a strong cup of coffee 30 minutes before aerobic exercise led to increased fat burn, especially if the activity occurred in the afternoon.
Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans.
Commercial energy drinks, snacks, and many other foods also have added caffeine. Moderate consumption of this stimulant may increase alertness, cognitive function, and weight loss.
A 2019 review of 21 published meta-analyses suggests that caffeine can increase exercise performance by enhancing anaerobic power, aerobic endurance, and muscle endurance and strength. Data also show that caffeine’s positive effect on these performance markers is more pronounced during aerobic exercise sessions than during anaerobic exercise.
Despite the evidence showing that caffeine assists in exercise performance, there is limited research on whether it helps the body burn fat.
To investigate caffeine’s ability to enhance fat-burning capabilities, scientists from the Department of Physiology of the University of Granada (UGR) in Spain examined the effect of caffeine intake on the maximal fat oxidation rate (MFO) of active men during a graded exercise test.
The study took place between June and November 2019, and the results appear in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The investigators suggest that consuming a strong cup of coffee or an equivalent amount of caffeine shortly before a moderately intense aerobic workout in the afternoon is the best scenario for maximum whole-body fat oxidation.
Also, a new study by researchers at UT Southwestern shows that when older adults with mild memory loss followed an exercise program for a year, the blood flow to their brains increased. The results were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
As many as one-fifth of people age 65 and older have some level of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – slight changes to the brain that affect memory, decision-making, or reasoning skills. In many cases, MCI progresses to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists have previously shown that lower-than-usual levels of blood flow to the brain, and stiffer blood vessels leading to the brain, are associated with MCI and dementia. Studies have also suggested that regular aerobic exercise may help improve cognition and memory in healthy older adults. However, scientists have not established whether there is a direct link between exercise, stiffer blood vessels, and brain blood flow.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about the effects of exercise on cognitive decline later in life,” says C. Munro Cullum, professor of psychiatry at UTSW and co-senior author of the study. “MCI and dementia are likely to be influenced by a complex interplay of many factors, and we think that, at least for some people, exercise is one of those factors.”
In the study, Zhang, Cullum, and their colleagues followed 70 men and women aged 55 to 80 who had been diagnosed with MCI. Participants underwent cognitive exams, fitness tests, and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Then they were randomly assigned to either follow a moderate aerobic exercise program or a stretching program for one year. The exercise program involved three to five exercise sessions a week, each with 30-40 minutes of moderate exercise such as a brisk walk.
Meanwhile, according to a recent Finnish study, accumulating more brisk and vigorous physical activity can curb adiposity-induced low-grade inflammation. The study also reported that diet quality had no independent association with low-grade inflammation. The findings, based on the ongoing Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, were published in the European Journal of Sport Science.
The study was made in collaboration among researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland, the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and the University of Cambridge.
Long-lasting low-grade inflammation increases the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Being overweight and obese contributes to low-grade inflammation, but little is still known about the role of lifestyle in curbing low-grade inflammation since childhood.
Also, according to new Edith Cowan University (ECU) research eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables every day could boost muscle function.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that people who consumed a nitrate-rich diet, predominantly from vegetables, had significantly better muscle function of their lower limb.
Poor muscle function is linked to a greater risk of falls and fractures and is considered a key indicator of general health and wellbeing.
Researchers examined data from 3,759 Australians taking part in Melbourne’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute AusDiab study over a 12-year period. They found those with the highest regular nitrate consumption had 11 per cent stronger lower limb strength than those with the lowest nitrate intake. Up to four percent faster walking speeds were also recorded.
The research found nitrate-rich vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and even beetroot, provided the greatest health benefits.
“Dietary nitrate intake is positively associated with muscle function in men and women independent of physical activity levels” was published in the Journal of Nutrition.
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